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Professional identity, commitment and gender in engineering: exploring the (mis)match between dispositions and cultures Open Access


Other title
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Campbell, Rachel
Supervisor and department
Krahn, Harvey (Sociology)
Examining committee member and department
Taylor, Alison (Educational Policy Studies)
Hughes, Karen (Sociology)
Madill, Helen (Faculty of Extension)
Adams, Tracy (Sociology)
Krahn, Harvey (Sociology)
Ranson, Gillian (Sociology)
Department of Sociology

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
This dissertation examines the gendered experience of professional engineers in Alberta, Canada. The study is based on qualitative interview data collected from men and women trained in engineering (n=36) and textual analysis of materials produced by engineering organizations (Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta; the Consulting Engineers Association in Alberta; the Engineering Alumni Association at the University of Alberta; and the School of Engineering at the University of Calgary). Drawing on the theoretical insights of Bourdieu, in combination with Connell’s constructionist perspective on gender, the dominant norms of the profession, the idealized traits and dispositions of engineers, and the impacts of a (mis)match between these broader norms and individual traits on commitment, are examined. The dissertation is structured around chapters that: 1) describe the dominant ideals of the engineering field; 2) examine whether the norms of engineering reflect gendered and racialized ideals; 3) argue for attention to professional identity and personal alignment with the profession over traditional notions of retention; 4) examine three key traits of engineers (or the engineering habitus): a strong work ethic, individual responsibility, and being rational problem-solvers; 5) analyze a primary engineering trait, technical orientation, in relation to retention and gender; 6) describe masculinities enacted in the profession and how they parallel differences in commitment and the engineering habitus; and 7) explore women’s perceptions of “gendered personalities”, structural issues in the balancing of family and work, and the relationship between organizational support of work-life balance and commitment to the profession. Through these analyses I find that women, and those less tied to the technical, are less likely to be committed to the profession. Yet this conclusion is far from determined as multiple factors come into play including a professional culture that pushes engineers to their limits, organizations that do not support or provide work-life balance opportunities, an emphasis on individual responsibility within rigid structures, and an ideal of “making a difference” in a field that reinforces the status quo. These factors, when further combined with gendered norms, create a profession in which the retention is far from that of a simple pipeline.
License granted by Rachel Campbell ( on 2010-09-28T16:02:19Z (GMT): Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of the above terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis, and except as herein provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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