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The Gendering of Engineering as Masculine: A Case Study of Female Malaysian Undergraduates

Sat, August 10, 2:30 to 4:10pm, Sheraton New York, Floor: Third Floor, Liberty 5

Abstract

The underrepresentation of women is a persistent feature of engineering in the U.S. Engineering’s masculine gender-typing is partly accountable for women’s underrepresentation there, but not necessarily elsewhere in the world. In Malaysia, a country in which engineering is also masculine-typed, women’s participation rate in engineering studies and work is nearly double that in the U.S. Despite a masculine gender-typing of engineering in both countries, why do so many more Malaysian women enter engineering than in the U.S.? We draw on focus group interviews with nineteen female undergraduate engineering students in a top Malaysian engineering program to understand this pattern. Analyses reveal that how the discipline is gendered differs across locations. In both locations, engineering is male-typed through masculine stereotypes and negative assumptions of women’s engineering-related capabilities. In the U.S., but not Malaysia, engineering is male-typed through an incompatibility between women’s personal identity and her professional identity as an engineer. So while Malaysian students describe gender-based differential treatment in college, recognize the possibility of gendered work tasks and sites, and incompatibility between family and engineering, they do not describe a mismatch between being a woman and being an engineer. By situating our study of gender in an international context, especially one with a relatively high female engineering participation rate, we explain how the gender-typing of a field matters for women’s curricular choices and, most notably, how a field’s masculine gender-typing does not always mean the exclusion of women. We contribute to the growing dialogue about ways to improve women’s engineering presence and, more broadly, their science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) participation in the U.S.

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