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I Didn’t Know it was a Thing Either: Women Engineers’ Experience of Suffering in the Workplace

This Canadian study investigates women engineers’ lived experiences of suffering in the workplace and aims to contribute to addressing the persistent problem of attracting and retaining women in engineering. It is inspired by my own experience of suffering in the engineering workplace, which I inquire into deeply as part of this thesis in an autoethnographic study. The autoethnography plays an essential role of critical self-reflection in service of this thesis’ primary research. My research on women engineers’ experience of suffering in the workplace uses a phenomenological, reflective lifeworld approach (Dahlberg et al., 2008). This approach is not widely used in organizational studies because, I argue, it represents a radical paradigm shift that is not easily understood. I endeavor in this thesis to make it more accessible and illuminate its potential to create disruptive, productive knowledge.
For my primary research, I use a purposeful sampling procedure to identify six women engineers who, together, represent a rich variation of experiences of the phenomenon. Each participant provides a critical situation narrative in which they are asked to write a direct, personal account of “a meaningful and vivid memory of an incident in the workplace that contributed to your suffering.” They then participate in two in-depth conversational interviews where their experiences of severe and protracted distress are explored. Analysis of women engineers’ intimate, personal experiences of suffering in the workplace found that some women engineers who suffer are trapped in an oppressive, socially constructed reality in which they protect themselves from threats and sacrifice their dignity, self-worth, health, well-being, and job effectiveness. Analysis of my findings against existing research on women in engineering and microaggressions results in six provocative insights. Systemic interventions that acknowledge and address the inequality in engineering are proposed.

Credit: Ann-Louise Howard

Date: 2022

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