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The Use and Misuse of 'Gender' and 'Sex' Terminologies in Civil Engineering Literature

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

WIED: Faculty and Gender Issues

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1249.1 - 24.1249.17



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Paper Authors


Cristina Poleacovschi University of Colorado, Boulder

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Cristina Poleacovschi is a Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado, Boulder studying Construction Engineering in Management. Her area of research interest are construction global projects and gender issues in engineering. Prior to coming to Boulder she received her M.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

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Amy Javernick-Will University of Colorado, Boulder

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Dr. Amy Javernick-Will is an Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder in the Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering Department. She received her Ph.D. from Stanford University and has focused her research efforts on knowledge mobilization in global organizations and projects, disaster recovery, and increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in engineering.

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The Use and Misuse of “Gender” and “Sex” Terminologies in Civil Engineering LiteratureMany social scientists and humanists differentiate sex and gender, and recognize gender as thesocial construction of biological sex. However, in civil engineering the terminologies are oftenused synonymously. The goal of the majority of gender research in civil engineering is tocontribute to a sex ratio representative of the population one by searching for cause-effectrelationships. Research that looks at sex ratio misrepresentation searched for causes of seximbalance and regards sex imbalance as the only effect of gender. For example, such researchcan look at women retention in the industry and find out that disadvantaged maternityenvironment can be one of the causes that affects sex imbalance in organizations. However,gender is the social construction of sex which dichotomizes the world into masculinities andfemininities and produces many other cause-effect relationships (e.g. dominant masculinities inengineering – sex imbalance; gender definitions – power). While encouraging womenrepresentation in engineering organizations can help mitigate gender issues, missing other gendercause-effect relationships can produce less sustainable solutions. We argue that foundations ofmissing gender cause-effect relationships lay in misusing the terms which makes certain gendercharacteristics invisible. Specifically, research that uses gender and sex synonymously andresearch that makes a distinction between gender and sex lays foundation to two differentresearch questions and cause-effect relationships. To test our hypothesis we will investigate theuse of gender and sex from 2003 to 2013 in four journals in construction engineering andmanagement—Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, Journal of Management inEngineering, Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice, andConstruction Management and Economics. By coding use of these terms and analyzing whetherthese terms are used interchangeably, we determine if gender is ignored, and if thisinterchangeable use drives different research questions and solutions. The research contributes tothe field of gender in civil engineering by addressing term differences that are largely missed inthe field. Similarly, this research inspires future questions that look beyond fixing the sex ratio inthe industry.

Poleacovschi, C., & Javernick-Will, A. (2014, June), The Use and Misuse of 'Gender' and 'Sex' Terminologies in Civil Engineering Literature Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23182

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