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How women engineers do and undo gender: consequences for gender equality

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journal contribution
posted on 07.12.2012, 09:27 authored by Abigail Powell, B Bagilhole, Andrew Dainty
The image of engineering as a masculine profession has reproduced the perception that engineering is unsuitable for women. While various strategies have been used to try to increase the number of women entering engineering education and employment, their success has been limited. At the same time it has been argued that the way gender is ‘done’ in work can help diminish or increase inequality between the sexes. Using empirical research exploring women engineering students’ workplace experiences, this article considers how gender performance explains their behaviour and attitudes. Butler implied that doing gender can result in our being ‘undone’. This was specifically found to be the case for the women students in this study, who performed their gender in a particular way in order to gain male acceptance. In doing this they utilized certain coping strategies: acting like one of the boys, accepting gender discrimination, achieving a reputation, seeing the advantages over the disadvantages and adopting an ‘anti-woman’ approach. These strategies are part of women’s enculturation and professionalization in engineering, yet they also fail to value femaleness. In ‘doing’ engineering, women often ‘undo’ their gender. Such gender performance does nothing to challenge the gendered culture of engineering, and in many ways contributes to maintaining an environment that is hostile to women.



  • Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering


POWELL, A. ... et al., 2009. How women engineers do and undo gender: consequences for gender equality. Gender, Work and Organization, 16 (4), pp. 411 - 428.


© 2008 The Author(s); Journal compilation © 2008 Blackwell Publishing Ltd


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This article was published in the journal, Gender, Work and Organization [© The Author(s); Journal compilation © Blackwell Publishing Ltd] and the definitive version is available at: