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The focus of this chapter is on engineering, since it tends to have the smallest proportion of women among those studying it. However, most of the strategies that work for engineering would also work for computer science, physics, chemistry, or mathematics. I shall include some of my own observations, as a student in engineering in the 1960s, as a holder of a chair for Women in Science and Engineering in the 1990s, when I visited many engineering schools and faculties across Canada, and as an engineering professor for the past twenty years. The Culture of Engineering G. J. Robinson and J. S. McIlwee (1991) point out that in order to understand how a culture functions, one must describe not only its values, norms, and styles of discourse but also the relations of power that underlie them. The question of power will become more visible when we discuss the engineering workplace, in Chapter 12. Here, we look at aspects of the culture, such as values and norms. The culture Chapte r 1 1 R Strategies to Attract and Retain More Women 0014_Frize_5x8_B_v09_16_11_2009.indd 177 16/11/09 6:19 PM 178 THE BOLD AND THE BRAVE in an engineering faculty affects the environment in which the students learn and succeed (or fail), and is one of the factors that definitely need to be improved if these faculties are to attract and retain more women. There are other underrepresented groups in engineering, such as persons with disabilities, visible minorities or persons with different sexual orientations than the majority, but the focus in this book is on the gender component. If we succeed in improving the environment for women, it will likely be improved for everyone, even for the men who represent the majority in these disciplines. It is perhaps worth noting that none of the changes proposed in this chapter would endanger the accreditation by the profession of any engineering course. Sally Hacker (1981) discusses the results of a study she carried out in a prestigious institute of technology in the United States through observations in classrooms, seminars, and social gatherings, and through a number of in-depth interviews with engineering faculty and with a comparable sample of faculty members in the humanities. She writes (p. 345), Engineering faculty ranked technical expertise as more valuable than knowledge of social relations. They described social sciences in womanly terms: soft, inaccurate, lacking in rigour, unpredictable, amorphous. Very few felt inadequate because they lacked knowledge of social relations or social systems. Almost all, however, felt engineers more qualified than most to move into management. They perceived little difference between managing people and managing technical systems. The culture described by Hacker in 1981 seems very much like the one described by Robinson and McIlwee in 1991 (1991, p. 405): The culture of engineering consists of three components. First and most important, its ideology emphasizes the 0014_Frize_5x8_B_v09_16_11_2009.indd 178 16/11/09 6:19 PM Strategies to Attract and Retain More Women 179 centrality of technology and of engineers as producers of this technology. Second, it stresses acquisition of organizational power as the basis of engineering success. Finally, it requires that interest in technology and organizational power be “presented” in an appropriate form—a form closely tied to the male gender role. Robinson and McIlwee’s findings indicate that the culture of engineering changed little between the time of Hacker’s study and theirs. They also note that the culture of engineering values behaviours and orientations consistent with the male gender role. They argue (p. 406) that engineering competence is a function of how well one presents an image of an aggressive, competitive, technically oriented person. . . . To be taken as an engineer is to look like an engineer, talk like an engineer, and act like an engineer. In most workplaces, this means looking, talking, and acting male. Of particular importance is to convey an image of hands-on competence. Few things are more closely tied to the male gender role than mechanical activities—using tools, tearing apart machinery, and building things. A fascination with, and desire to discuss at length, these activities is part of the culture of engineering’s interactional display that works against women. Two more scholars, K. H. Sorensen and A. J. Berg (1987), asked Norwegian engineering students to rate symbols (artefacts) that had some association with particular engineering disciplines as either masculine, neutral, or feminine. The results may explain the clustering of women in certain disciplines. Symbols rated as masculine, by both male...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780776618845
Related ISBN
9780776607252
MARC Record
OCLC
864851766
Pages
366
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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