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Gender and engineering : alternative styles of engineering Van Beers, Anne M.


The slowly increasing number of women in the engineering profession has led to considerable debate on the impact women may have on the profession, in particular the potential role of women as diffusion agents of values and perspectives thus far unexpressed in technology. This qualitative study explores the issue of gendered styles of work and thought through a study of engineers' perceptions on the possibility of alternative styles of engineering, and what different styles of engineering would look like in terms of the practice of engineering and the type of technology developed. The study further explores motivations behind educational and career choices and gender variation in disciplinary preferences; gender differences and similarities in work experiences; whether women feel the need to transform the profession; and whether they feel able to introduce change. Forty engineers (twenty women, twenty men) were interviewed with regard to their work experiences, and their views on gendered work styles in the engineering workplace. Most participants thought the presence of women would change the structure of the engineering work environment, the culture of engineering, and the practice of engineering. Responses indicate some support for the idea of alternative styles of engineering in that women were perceived to have a more contextual approach to engineering, to have better communication and interaction skills, and to prefer a more consensual working relationship over hierarchical structures. A quarter of the engineers also believed alternative styles of engineering will change the content of engineering. Responses further indicate some support for the idea that disciplinary choices are in part an expression of gendered values and views. Most participants felt opportunity structures are gendered, and women who felt their work behaviour or style differed from men felt this affected their rate of progress in the workplace. Moreover, responses indicate women do perceive themselves as agents of change and feel a responsibility for introducing change towards improving the status of women in engineering, and the integration and retention of women in the profession.

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