Outfits need to make room for 'gadget girls'

While engineering environments are accepting of a wide variety of male personalities, they still don't make it easy for women to fit in regardless of their traits, according to new research out of the University of Edinburgh.

In interviewing and observing 66 men and women engineers, sociologist Wendy Faulkner found that very few engineers actually fall into the classic stereotype of a person who is brilliant and passionate about technology but unable to deal with other people. Among men, she found "laddish blokes" as well as family men, macho types, classic nerds and suave men. She also found a variety of personalities among women, including "gadget girls" who love technology, though don't necessarily come from a tinkering background as many of their male peers do.

She found that the cultures at the engineering organizations, including the social activities and topics of conversation, generally reflected men's typical interests more so than those of women. This is one reason that even when women do land engineering jobs, they often don't stick around for long, Faulkner said.

"Many subtle aspects of the culture, which may appear trivial individually, when taken as a whole have a dripping tap effect -- making it harder for women to belong and get on in engineering," she said in a statement.

The researcher said that if more women are to join the engineering workforce companies need to adopt sensitivity and diversity training that is supported from the top down.

For more on her research, see this research briefing.

Other recent research shows that women are still underrepresented in the IT workforce, but that companies are striving to make changes. Meanwhile, women are starting to catch up to men in overall Internet use, researchers say.

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