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Cultures Within Cultures: Welcoming Or Unwelcoming For Women?

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Recruitment and Retention Topics

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.430.1 - 12.430.19



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Paper Authors


Elizabeth Godfrey University of Auckland

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Elizabeth Godfrey is currently the Associate Dean Undergraduate at the School of Engineering at the University of Auckland after a career that has included university lecturing, teaching and ten years as an advocate for Women in Engineering. Her research interests have focussed on the Culture of Engineering Education and Gender but new research interests are opening up in the First Year Experience, Engineering Cultures and the evaluation of learning outcomes.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Cultures within cultures: Welcoming or unwelcoming for women?


A cultural analysis of engineering education, using an interpretive case study methodology at a multidisciplinary engineering institution, exposed disciplinary subcultures or “cultures within cultures” some of which appeared more welcoming of women’s participation than others. Cultural differences were noted between the engineering disciplines not only at the level of social behaviors and relationships, but also at the level of tacitly known and understood ways of valuing knowledge, teaching, and learning. A local plateauing of overall female participation at approximately 20% masked persistent differences in female participation by discipline, reflecting international trends. This paper suggests that a study of these disciplinary subcultures may clarify the persistence of this differential participation , and lead to the formulation of new approaches to increasing women’s participation in engineering education.


Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy that engineering disciplines with more women develop cultures that attract more women? Can, and should, this pattern be disrupted?

These questions arose in the context of a cultural analysis of engineering education, which primarily sought to explore the interaction of the participation of women (the feminine) with a culture which has often been named as masculine (i.e. not feminine). The masculine nature of the culture of engineering education has been named as a major inhibiting factor to the increased participation of women 1,2 , with masculine values, norms and assumptions identified not only at the level of social interaction and discourse, but at the deeper levels of knowledge generation and transmission 2,3,4,5.

The publication of the 1996 Australian Review of Engineering Education6 entitled Changing the Culture called for “a culture change in engineering education, ultimately to extend throughout the profession” and explicitly noted that this transformation had the potential to attract more women to the profession. The Australian review echoed discussions occurring simultaneously in the UK, USA and Canada. Increasingly in the last ten years the term “culture” has entered the engineering education discourse and it seems implicitly understood that engineering education has a distinctive culture, recognizable to all its practitioners. Outside of the gender literature however, little theorising about the nature of the engineering culture can be found, and one of the drivers for the investigation from which this paper is drawn was to develop a conceptual framework for the engineering education culture that would be accessible to engineering educators. The resulting framework was reported on at the 2003 conference7 and although it will inform this paper it will, of necessity, not be fully described at this time.

A second driver for the investigation, was the apparent assumption of a unified homogeneous culture with a significant lack of research, even within the gender literature, into national, institutional and discipline-specific subcultures within engineering education.

Over the last ten years, the reporting of a plateauing of female participation at near 20% in the US8 and other countries, has masked the continuing differential participation between the

Godfrey, E. (2007, June), Cultures Within Cultures: Welcoming Or Unwelcoming For Women? Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2302

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