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Sterotype of engineers puts women off the job

March 10 2006 - Classic stereotypes of engineers as men who are brilliant at and passionate about technology, but not very good at dealing with people, do not reflect real engineers and their work, according to Dr Wendy Faulkner from the University of Edinburgh. Moreover, such stereotypes are hampering efforts to recruit women into the engineering profession.

According to Dr Faulkner, who interviewed and observed 66 male and female engineers from a range of industries,: "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.

Wendy Faulkner 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."

Her study shows details how the topics engineers talk about, as well as their style of humour and the social activities they engage in, reflect men's interests and ways of bonding. Women are left on the margins of this male society, finding it difficult to break into the 'inner circles' that carry influence on 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 Wendy 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.

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