Culture of engineering discriminates against women


A study conducted by a Sociology Professor, Winifred R. Poster from Washington University, reveals the experiences of women working in the IT sector in India and USA. The analysis is based on case studies of three computer companies- Trade Co, a US company based in India, AmCo, US Company based in California and IndCo an Indian company based in New Delhi.


According to the study, due to the “cultures of engineering” at the workplace, there is evident discrimination against women in both the countries. Even though both India and the US are extremely different in terms of size, population, wealth, etc., both have small percentages of women working in these sectors (25%-30%); the only difference being that for US the number is declining, whereas in India- its on the rise.


Poster observed that in comparison IndCo was more adept at getting women into engineering and technical work. AmCo on the other hand was found to be more adept at promoting women into IT management. More support from IT educational institutions in India has lead to better access and higher income as compared to equally skilled women in other professions.  In the US, there are strong political movements by women activists and other organizations that help promote gender equity and hold firms accountable for their own written policies and public claims. This has lead to more promotions for women and better pay.


The study also reveals that in a country like India, workers from different sexes don’t usually mix well. But with companies like AmCo, the culture is such, that both men and women work together. This breaks down the model of gender hierarchy but, Poster notices that it has by far been ineffective in addressing the skill-based model that usually confines women to work like documentation etc. A female senior engineer Shilpa, after being asked to do administrative rather than problem-solving work in R&D told a colleague,  “Gee, do you think this is because I was not introduced properly into this account, or this environment, or this particular company—or just because I am a woman?”


According to the study, companies like TransCo., by integrating  the best of the work-family strategies from both India and the US, have been able to undermine some of the barriers for the working women in the sector. Poster however feels that global circuits sometimes transplant new work cultures and hybridize different barriers for women.


ORIGINAL SOURCE: Gender, Sexuality and Feminism – Winifred R. Poster