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Negotiating Masculine Spaces: Attitudes and Strategies of First-Year Women in Engineering

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Undergraduate Student Issues: Culture

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.924.1 - 23.924.12



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Paper Authors


Marie C Paretti Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Marie C. Paretti is an Associate Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, where she co-directs the Virginia Tech Engineering Communications Center (VTECC). Her research focuses on communication and teamwork in engineering, design education, and engineering identity. She was awarded a CAREER grant from NSF to study expert teaching practices in capstone design courses nationwide, and is co-PI on NSF . Her work includes studies on the teaching and learning of communication, the effects of curriculum on design cognition, the effects of differing design pedagogies on retention and motivation, the dynamics of cross-disciplinary collaboration in both academic and industry design environments, and gender and identity in engineering.

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Courtney S Smith-Orr Virginia Tech

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Negotiating Masculine Spaces: Attitudes and Strategies of First-Year Women in EngineeringIt has been more than 10 years since Tonso conducted her ground-breaking ethnographic study ofengineering design teams that explored the highly gendered nature of team interactions and thekinds of challenges women face in such environments. Studies of the experiences of womenengineers by Faulkner, Dryburgh, and others have explored the gendered dynamics of engineeringwork, the divisions between being “feminine” and being “an engineer,” and the impact of suchdivisions on engineering identity. And gender gaps persist not only in engineering but across a rangeof fields; Anne-Marie Slaughter’s summer 2012 article in The Atlantic Monthly is one in an ongoingseries of articles that describe the challenges women face as professionals in the contemporaryworkplace. Yet certain cultural changes have occurred, and expectations for what women can do andwhat fields they can enter have shifted since Tonso’s fieldwork. Have those shifts made a differencefor women entering engineering programs?In this paper, we explore that question through interviews with 10 women selected based on theresults of a survey of first-year engineering students in a large general engineering program at a mid-Atlantic university. Results of the survey have been reported elsewhere, and included measures ofboth gender identification (i.e. the degree to which being female was important to respondents’ self-concept) and identification with engineering (the degree to which being an engineer was importantto respondents’ self concept) as well as other motivation constructs and outcomes variables such asintent to persist in the field. Interview subjects were selected based on high domain and high genderidentification; that is, the 10 women who were interviewed perceived both being female and beingan engineering as important to their self-concept.The interviews were transcribed and analyzed using open-coding procedures to identify ways womenexperience the relationship between their gender and their engineering identities, their experienceswith male students (e.g. on design teams, studying for exams, completing homework assignments),and their strategies for navigating gendered dynamics such as peers who did not value their input orwho expected them to take on certain roles. The participants rarely responded directly to questionsabout perceived gendered experiences, but when talking about their experiences in classes or onteams, did describe ways in which they had negotiated their space and their identity, earning respector demonstrating competence to gain a voice at the table. At the same time, these participants sawno need to give up or mask their femininity, and spoke about embracing and moving easily betweenidentities. The findings from these interviews suggest that while overt experiences of genderstereotypes or sexism may be decreasing, some biases persist; at the same time, women enteringengineering programs are both aware of and have strategies for negotiating those biases. Thefindings suggest opportunities for educators to strengthen women’s self-concepts as both womenand engineers.

Paretti, M. C., & Smith-Orr, C. S. (2013, June), Negotiating Masculine Spaces: Attitudes and Strategies of First-Year Women in Engineering Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22309

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