The Problem of Women's Assimilation into UK Engineering Cultures: Can critical mass work?

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It has been suggested that organisations with a better balance, or critical mass, of women would be more tolerant of difference and foster the inclusion of other women. This paper seeks to investigate whether a strategy of critical mass can really work in the engineering sector. The data are based on research funded by the ESRC, and problematise critical mass theory through semi-structured qualitative interviews and focus groups with female students from a range of engineering disciplines. The findings demonstrate that women engineering students accept gender discrimination, view the industry positively, value their ‘‘novelty’’ status, and are critical of other women. While these attitudes may be a result of women’s assimilation into the existing engineering culture, they do little to further women’s cause in engineering. Furthermore, it points to both the necessity, and difficulties, of transforming the engineering culture to ensure that the engineering professions are a place where women can not only survive but also thrive. While previous research has addressed the critical mass of women in science, engineering and technology, this research critiques critical mass theory, not only because women continue to remain isolated within the sector, despite increasing numbers, but also because many women engineers reinforce the masculine culture within engineering.
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Powell, Abigail
Bagilhole, Barbara
Dainty, Andrew
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