Doing gender in engineering workplace cultures. I. Observations from the field

TitleDoing gender in engineering workplace cultures. I. Observations from the field
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsFaulkner, W.
Secondary TitleEngineering Studies
ISBN Number1937-8629
Keywordsculture change, doing gender, engineering, masculinities, workplace culture

It is frequently claimed that women who enter engineering have to ’fit in’ to ’a masculine culture’, but there is little systematic evidence on this. This article presents observations about gender dynamics in engineers’ everyday interactions, drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in three companies. The overall picture is mixed. Engineers are generally respectful in their interactions, but there are subtle dynamics which make it easier for (more) men than women engineers to build effective work relationships and to ’belong’. Topics of conversation are generally quite wide-ranging and inclusive amongst close colleagues, but lean heavily on gender-stereotypical subjects with outsiders. Most engineers take some care not to cause offence to others, but in some workplaces the humour and chat are very sexualised and sexist. Engineering can accommodate a range of masculinities, but some are more influential than others. Throughout, we see that doing the job often involves ’doing gender’. Workplace cultures not only oil the wheels of the job and the organisation; they can also have a huge bearing on who stays and gets on in engineering. Part II of this article (in a later issue) takes this analysis further, by highlighting an ’in/visibility paradox’ facing women engineers.