Engineering companies urged to make room for the 'gadget girls'

March 9, 2006

The classic stereotype of an engineer – a man who is brilliant at and passionate about technology, but not so good at dealing with people – bears little resemblance to actual engineers or their work, according to new research from the University of Edinburgh. These stereotypes hamper the engineering profession's efforts to recruit women, says Dr Wendy Faulkner who carried out the study.

Dr Faulkner, who interviewed and observed 66 men and women engineers working in a range of industries, says: "Women and men engineers alike get excited about technology –even though fewer of the women have a 'tinkerer' background. There are 'gadget girls' as well as 'boys and their toys' in engineering. At the same time, many different types of men and women enjoy engineering work – very few fit the classic stereotype.

She adds: "In practice, engineering encompasses a wide variety of jobs and roles. It is a 'broad church' with room for a diverse range of people. Yet the image of engineering – and often the culture – remains a narrowly technical, 'nuts and bolts' one.

"Retention is as important as recruitment –many of those women who do complete engineering degrees don't go onto engineering jobs or leave the industry after only a few years," says Dr Faulkner. "Part of the issue is that women who enter engineering have to become 'one of the lads' in order to fit in. Many subtle aspects of the culture, which may appear trivial individually, when taken as a whole have a 'dripping tap' effect – making it harder for women to belong, and get on in engineering."

The study shows in detail how topics of conversation, humour and social activities often reflect men's interest and ways of bonding. This can leave women on the margins socially, and make it difficult for women to break into the 'inner circles' that influence how the job gets done and who gets promoted.

"By contrast, engineering workplace cultures accommodate a range of men – laddish blokes, family men, pranksters, macho men, nerdy men, urbane men, genteel men – and so they are likely to feel comfortable to the great majority of men," says Dr Faulkner.

"If more women are to stay and progress in engineering workplaces, there is a strong business case for employers to introduce sustained and sensitive diversity training, to raise awareness of these kind of issues and to nurture more 'inclusive' workplace cultures in which everyone is comfortable," says Dr Faulkner.

Source: University of Edinburgh

Explore further: Trusted electronic hardware: Top 10 list of what consumers trust most

Related Stories

Participatory design in Kenya's oldest slum

August 5, 2015

In a landmark project with UN-Habitat, a team of Cambridge researchers has designed a community centre in one of Kenya's biggest and oldest slums, and its future users are now raising funds to build it.

An ally for the understudied Y chromosome

August 3, 2015

Alexander Godfrey, a PhD student in biology at MIT, is acutely fascinated by the Y chromosome, which confers maleness. This chromosome is often considered a genetic castaway—because its complexity makes it very difficult ...

Men think they are maths experts, therefore they are

June 23, 2015

Just because more men pursue careers in science and engineering does not mean they are actually better at math than women are. The difference is that men think they are much better at math than they really are. Women, on ...

Recommended for you

Seeing quantum motion

August 28, 2015

Consider the pendulum of a grandfather clock. If you forget to wind it, you will eventually find the pendulum at rest, unmoving. However, this simple observation is only valid at the level of classical physics—the laws ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.