My research looks at the experience of women as minorities in male-dominated fields of study, specifically Software Engineering. In this field of study not only is it male-dominated, but it is one of the fields of engineering where men highly outnumber women, having only one or two female graduates every year, if any. As well, the technical aspects of software engineering work require analytical, objective, logic-oriented personality traits to be successful, most of which are known to be associated with males. So is it that women aren’t innately meant for this work? As well, why have certain women chosen to enter these fields and how are they coping with the male-dominated environments they have stumbled upon in their decision to enter STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields of study.
I therefore have created a research study that analyzes the women that have entered these male-dominated fields of study. My research attempts to understand why these women chose to enter into these fields, what their experiences in these fields have been, and what can be done to neutralize the gender inequality that exists in the classrooms and the workplaces where these fields exist. It is important to understand the many intricate factors that accompany women throughout their studies and work in STEM fields, as many of them must deal with being a minority in not only gender, but sexual orientation and ethnicity often also play a role in their social differences from their colleagues.
My fieldwork consisted of three different methods of data collection: Interviews, photo analysis and auto-ethnography. These three types of data were easily at my disposal, being in Software Engineering myself. Interviews were conducted with students and a teacher in STEM fields. This method of data collection provided me with rich narratives that gave an excellent inside look into the thoughts and experiences of students and teachers in these fields. However, the interviews were extremely time consuming since they required face to face meetings and days of transcribing. The photo analysis and auto-ethngraphy were much less time consuming, than the interviews and showed a different side of male-dominated fields of study. The photos were taken around the engineering building, in areas where the students walk by every day. The auto-ethnography gives an account of certain personal experiences I have had within a male-dominated field of study and connects this autobiographical story to the wider cultural, political, and social meanings and understandings.
In conducting my research and analyzing the data collected I used a feminist theoretical framework. Feminist theory researches the idea of women’s subordination in society throughout all of history. It focuses on the fact that the relationship between men and women has always been an unequal and oppressive one. It examines “women’s social roles, experience, interests, and feminist politics in a variety of fields, such as anthropology and sociology, communication, psychoanalysis, economics, literary, education, and philosophy” (Brabeck 15). In my research I am looking at how women are affected by being in a male-dominated field of study, therefore feminist theory is very relevant. I have analyzed many aspects of their lives, including the language they use, roles they play, and how being in a male dominated field has shaped their lives in different ways. These are all important factors to analyse under feminist theory, which would assume that these women will experience subordination from their male counterparts, and male professors (seeing as a majority of professors in male-dominated fields of study are male).
The following are the three research question that this study revolves around:
- Why are women less likely to enter STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields of study?
- How are women affected when engaging in a male-dominated post-secondary field of study?
- What can be done to get more women involved in STEM studies?