The Bridge

Research Corner for The Bridge | Dissecting Discourse & Collaboration

Issue 02

Published  March 21, 2023

Research Corner provides plain language summaries of research relevant to the engineering sector. These summaries highlight key information and actionable steps. Click on the underlined links below to take you directly to the research summary you would like to read.

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Research Summary #1

Key Takeaway: Women communicate differently to “prove” themselves as engineers. 

The Research

This summary is based on the article: “Engineering Identity: Gender and Professional Identity Negotiation among Women Engineers”. 
The researchers are: Deneen M. Hatmaker 
The research can be found here: DOI:10.1111/j.1468-0432.2012.00589.x 

What is this research about?

This article explores how interactions with co-workers can influence how women engineers see and think of themselves as engineers.  

What did they do?

Interviews with 52 women working as an engineer in various fields, including consulting, were conducted. Interactions were assessed across work environments, including in office settings and field sites. 

The interviews were transcribed and coded in order to assess patterns in responses. The assessment was focused on the respondent’s view of interactions between them and their co-workers. 

What did they find?

Many interesting insights were found in the interview responses. Some findings include: 

  • Women noticed they were viewed as a woman before they were thought of as an engineer 
  • To cope with being excluded, women sometimes work harder to market themselves as a ‘professional’ and to demonstrate their technical abilities 
  • Women sometimes alter their appearance, or their name, to be more masculine 
  • To accommodate for co-workers doubting their technical expertise, women tend to use more technical jargon in conversation 
  • Office tasks that are not valued, or viewed as feminine (note taking, bringing food, cleaning) tend to be assigned to women, taking up their valuable work time. 
  • Women experienced not being taken as seriously as male colleagues. When women offered an opinion or response, some did not trust their answers. This resulted in women spending more energy getting colleagues to trust their work. 
  • In some cases, women noted being assessed in job interviews based on their role as a woman or wife (e.g., asked what their husbands’ opinion was on potential jobs). 

How can you use this research?

  • Recognize and celebrate contributions and expertise from all people within the workplace. Find a recognition program that suits your office and work. This type of recognition not only helps reinforce a positive, supportive work environment, but also helps to build motivation amongst employees. 
  • Ensure your company has a policy addressing exclusionary and marginalizing behaviour. Review regularly and ensure all managers are trained in identifying and responding to these behaviours.  
  • Create a spreadsheet to rotate minute taking, potluck lunches, etc., amongst the team. 
  • If you are experiencing exclusion in your workplace, document your concerns to discuss with a manager. 
  • Update parental leave and childcare policies to ensure employees who are not women are included.