Asee peer logo

“ I am Not a Feminist, but…”: Making Meanings of Being a Woman in Engineering

Download Paper |


2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Myths About Gender and Race

Tagged Divisions

Minorities in Engineering, Liberal Education/Engineering & Society, and Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1719.1 - 22.1719.19



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Carroll Suzanne Seron University of California, Irvine

visit author page

Carroll Seron is a Professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society and the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine. Building on her earlier work in the sociology of the professions, with Susan Silbey, her current research seeks to explain the persistent under-representation of women in engineering. She has published in Law & Society Review, Work & Occupations, Criminology among other journals. She is currently the Editor of Law & Society Review.

visit author page


Erin A. Cech University of California, San Diego

visit author page

Erin Cech is a doctoral candidate in sociology at UC, San Diego. Her research examines individual-level, cultural mechanisms that reproduce inequality, especially those pertaining to sex segregation in science and engineering fields. Her dissertation investigates the self-expressive edge of inequality, analyzing how gender schemas and self-conceptions influence career decisions of college students over time. She also studies the role of professional culture in wage inequality, cross-national beliefs about work time for mothers (with Maria Charles), and, in a Social Problems article, perceptions of inequality among high-level professional women (with Mary Blair-Loy). She earned Electrical Engineering and Sociology degrees from Montana State University.

visit author page


Susan S. Silbey Massachusetts Institute of Technology

visit author page

Susan S. Silbey is Leon and Anne Goldberg Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Head, Department of Anthropology.

visit author page


Brian Rubineau Cornell University

visit author page

Brian Rubineau is an Assistant Professor in Organizational Behavior at Cornell University's ILR School. Professor Rubineau joined the Cornell University faculty in 2007. Professor Rubineau earned his Ph.D. at the MIT Sloan School of Management, concentrating in Economic Sociology and Organization Studies. His dissertation was entitled, "Gendering professions: An analysis of peer effects." Professor Rubineau also earned a Masters degree in Public Health from Harvard University, a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and a Bachelor of Science in Cognitive Science from MIT.

Professor Rubineau's research focuses on the informal social dynamics that generate and perpetuate inequalities in organizations. This focus has yielded three primary research streams: 1.) referral dynamics and job segregation, 2.) social network effects and sex segregation in engineering, and 3.) professional socialization of physicians and racial disparities in patient care. The first stream, referral dynamics and job segregation, explores practices and policies organizations can implement to reduce the segregating effects of recruitment using word-of-mouth referrals. The second stream, social networks and sex segregation in engineering, scrutinizes the role of a person's social milieu on their career choices, and examines gender differences in both the operation and effects of these social influence processes. The third stream, professional socialization of physicians and racial disparities in patient care, seeks to understand whether and how the professional culture of medicine and socialization into that culture contributes to the pervasive and intransigent problem of differential treatment by patient race.

visit author page

Download Paper |


“ I am Not a Feminist, but…:” Making Meanings of Being a Woman in EngineeringEngineering is often described as one of the last bastions of a macho culture wherewomen continue to experience minority status. In this article we ask, how dowomen make meaning of this status? We explore this question in the context ofstudents’ socialization into the profession over the course of their engineeringeducation. Drawn from diaries, our findings show that young women hold multipleand contradictory perspective about their status as women in engineering. Thestrands of these perspectives are articulated around (a) a feminist critique, (b)essentialism, (3) meritocracy and individualism, and (d) exceptionalism. Thesefindings suggest that their taken-for-granted assumptions about essentialism,meritocracy and individualism, and exceptionalism trump the opportunity to take afeminist critique to its logical conclusion. We end by exploring the irony of theirsimultaneous adherence to and rejection of feminist critiques of engineering.

Seron, C. S., & Cech, E. A., & Silbey, S. S., & Rubineau, B. (2011, June), “ I am Not a Feminist, but…”: Making Meanings of Being a Woman in Engineering Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17288

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2011 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015