Article Author: Powell, Abigail, Bagilhole, Barbara & Dainty, Andrew Date of publication: 2009 Title of article or chapter: How Women Engineers Do and Undo Gender: Consequences for Gender Equality Name of Journal or Book: Gender, Work & Organization. Name of Publisher: Page numbers of article or chapter: Vol. 16, No. 4, pp. 411-428 This article discusses the image of engineering as a masculine profession and the perception that engineering in unsuitable for women.
While various strategies have been used to try and increase the number of women entering engineering education and employment, their success has been limited. At the same time it can be argued that the way ‘gender’ is done in work can help diminish or increase inequality between the sexes. Etzkowitz et al. (2000) found that women face a series of gender-related barriers to success in male – dominated careers. Women are typically viewed as ‘honorary men’ or ‘flawed women’ for attempting to participate in fields traditionally dominated by men.
Furthermore, Evetts (1997) writes that if the woman is an efficient, competent manager she is likely to be judged unfeminine, but if she demonstrates the supposedly female qualities of care and sensitivity she is like to be assessed either an inappropriate inefficient manager or as a good female manager. Cohen and Tyler (2007) term this process of ‘purification’, whereby women are constructed as an organisational resource, available and accessible to all.
Gherardi (1994) suggests that when women are actually accepted into a traditionally masculine environment, they are often made the object of displays that typify the community of men, a symbolic ‘slap on the back’ for example. In the case of the women in engineering, they must continuously manage the tension between personal and professional identities that are at odds with another. Some individuals cope with this by leaving mainstream employment, while other may, consciously or subconsciously, silence their complaints and surrender their (female) identity.
According to Malpas (2000), is considered by many as a somewhat dull, uncreative activity, associated with the so-called ‘old-economy’. Historically the image of engineering has been tough, heavy and dirty, culturally portraying a masculine profession. Furthermore the culture and ethos of the industry are extremely male, which have helped to reproduce the perception that engineering is unsuitable for women.
Supporting this is the work by Glover et al. (1996), who indicated that women actively choose not to enter SET careers in the knowledge that they are likely to experience discomfort in them. The article suggests from its findings that women are caught in an ambiguous, double bind where they can choose to be accepted, for example by acting like ‘one of the lads’, but simultaneously deny their gender, or choose not to be accepted at all.