Women In The Male Dominated Progession Of Engineering Sociology Essay


ENGINEERING is a male dominated profession. Despite the differences in the representations of women in engineering in different countries, it is characterization and conception as a `masculine profession’ remains the same (Uhi, 2003). Women are a minority in this field at both the academic and the professional level more so than in other specialized professions because of social and technological barriers for them. Moreover, it is still generally considered as a profession only for men (Kazemi, 2000). Being a female myself I have and I am still struggling for promotions and became of this I would like to explain this topic further.

It’s my story that’s why I’m so interested in it ……..

My ambition as a young petroleum engineer was to be a professional engineer with excellent technical knowledge in my line of specialization.

At my first job with Eni Oil Company as a petroleum engineer, I had to put in enormous efforts in learning the basic concepts of petroleum engineering and to prove myself. Working at the city offices far away from the field work was completely a waste of time and I was not able to gain the experience that I needed because field work is the source of almost infinite knowledge on well performance, field management, relationships, drilling, completion, product measurement, and data gathering. It provided with contacts that were crucial to good job performance on every oil well. But I was not allowed to work at petroleum fields because of the Arabic culture which prevents the mixing of women with men in an isolated place. So if  I decided to work in oil fields to improve myself  I will lose my family and I will be outcast of the society more over I will not be able to get married and start a family. That was absolutely disappointing. This is one of the reasons why I have chosen this research topic so that I can explore the answer for this problem so that my government can take some actions to rectify this problem.

Literature Review:

Engineering is the backbone of the technology that drives our world, and the participation of women in dominantly male professions access to high education and professional type of career are poorly represented in engineering (Carnel, Oldenziel and Zachmann, 2000).

At the beginning of the twentieth century it was unusual for women to enter higher education while few took up professional training. It was even more unusual for them to contemplate becoming scientists and engineers. Since then it has been progress, but it still has been made very slow. Today the image of women’s role in the realm of science and engineering become more and more clear but still form only a small proportion of those engaged in practising and managing engineering (The rising Tide, 1999).

This fact should be evaluated in relation to the gendered culture of technology. Technology has never been neutral in terms of gender (Wajcman, 2001) and has been constructed culturally and historically as masculine (Cockburn, 1999). It should be noted that this argument does not presuppose the idea that technology has to be masculine in its essence. Technology has always been a site for continuing discursive struggles on meanings, images and representations. The history of technology provides cases of fields which were crowded with women in the beginning but developed into `naturally’ masculine domains. The current configuration of technological occupations shows that women `operate the machinery’ instead of `managing technology, developing it is use or maintaining or servicing it’ (Cockburn, 1999). In other words, women work as operators pushing the buttons or the keys and work on the machine without knowing what is going on inside of it.

This gendered segregation in technical professions points to the fact that the dominant discourse in technology is masculine. One of the ways through which the masculine discourse of technology constructs and legitimises itself is the naturalisation of the constructed differences between men and women; emphasising especially the male competence, female incompetence in technical knowledge and skills.

Nevertheless, as Cockburn (1999) argues the low number of women in the fields of technology and engineering cannot be explained by theories that argue that there are `essential’ difference between women and men

Women and men are equally represented in College Education but more important are differences in types of education. (Khatib, 2009) argues that at very early in the school boys express more interests in science and mathematics, and girls excel in verbal skills, which resulted in over representation of men in fields of hard cord science discipline and engineering and women in education and humanities.

But who is better student? If occupational aspirations by sex and different success in mathematics and hard sciences can be seen very early as a result of modelling traditional behaviour pattern, it can be expected that women in engineering are not as good students as their male colleagues having lower grades and longer period of studying. Female students are better in both dimensions they have higher grades and shorter period of studying. In another words women who want to make career in engineering have to do much better than men and are much higher motivated (Khatib, 2009).

It can be argued that women’s entrance into a technical field and engineering is not an easy task. For women to cross into male work is to transgress gender rules and to invite penalties. It involves abandoning women’s traditional values and concerns (Lloyd, 2003)

In Libya the pattern of engineering being a male dominated field repeats. Engineering departments have the lowest percentage of women both as students and professors. In 2002, there were 9,650 female engineers in Libya, comprising 13.6 per cent of all engineers (Alfateh University, 2002). This percentage is the first lowest in all professions in all sectors. When the distribution of female students and professors within Alfatah university engineering programs is assessed, the ratios likewise favour men. The percentage of female students was 12.6 percent in engineering departments in 2002, while it was 45.8 per cent in Literary Sciences, 13.9 percent in Medical Sciences, and 27.7 per cent in Social Sciences in the same academic year. These percentages reflect the distribution of women in academia. And also it has been reported that women are more greatly represented in some engineering departments more than others. at Alfateh university (which is the first and the biggest university in Libya) for the year 2002-2003, the percentage of female students was: 35 per cent in architectural and civil engineering, 32 per cent in chemical and nuclear engineering, 23 per cent in computing engineering, but only 10 per cent in petroleum engineering, These ratios clearly illustrate that a substantial gap exists between petroleum engineering and other departments. Petroleum engineering has been always considered as unattractive department, Moreover there is also a fact that exploration and production of oil and gas is frequently seemed as an un-charmed, dull activity.

The interesting fact in the case of Libyan that women in academic life do not report having faced any discrimination throughout their university education and academic lives. On the contrary, they claim that they `received fair and equal treatment in the academic world but this completely different for women engineers in professional life. There are many obstacles which deter talented females from working as professionals or make it difficult for them to achieve their full career potential.

“Petroleum Engineering is an applied science more than theoretical. to be a good effective engineer you should work in the oil and gas fields which are always located far away from the civilian life in the desert and also on an isolated sea platforms. Digging wells connecting pipes and drilling bits by your own hand measuring the pressure and temperature in the well heads and also being able to deal with the everyday exploration and drilling surprises. In other words you must be following the process of exploration and drilling oil wells step by step from the beginning to the stage of the oil flowing from production pipelines” (Cunha, 2004)

Cunha (2004) also argues that there is no other way to be a successful petroleum engineer and to gain the required and essential experience in the professions of oil industry this might be suitable for male engineers but it is not permitted for the females in Arab societies( Shaban,2006). According to Shaban (2006) there are several factors for this Prevention which can be summarized in three main reasons. The fist factor is the Islamic religion which prohibits the mixing of women and men, especially in isolated places like oil fields. Another factor is the Libyan society which is a conservative society, has strong social ties and special traditions that deny women’s work for long hours outside which might extend for weeks in the case of working hours in the oil fields. Finally the Libyan law, which does not allow any sensible person to carry out actions or statements contravene Islamic religion and Libyan customs and also does not allow women to work at any kind of jobs which do not commensurate with their physical and psychological abilities .

Therefore, female petroleum engineers would not have the opportunity to work at the oil fields and as a result will not be able to gain the required expertise and knowledge to be successful engineers.

Soltan (2008) indicate that in 2007 the proportion of female engineers working at the in the Libyan oil and gas companies had reached 71% of the total graduates from Libyan universities, while 19 percent preferred to leave oil sector and they engage in the education sector.

He also illustrate that all this percentage is working in the company’s offices which mainly located in Benghazi and Tripoli the main capital cities in Libya. This surplus in the number of female engineers lacking basic experiences and low in competence has led to neglect them in direct or indirect way, moreover they became unreliable even to do the simple tasks. Soltan (2008) argues that the cost of training engineers at college is very high. Therefore if the female engineers are underused or lost to the workforce, this represents a financial lost to the nation.

However the management type which can be classified as Telling style which mean high directive and low supportive style this kind of managers with high amount of task behaviour, telling subordinates what, when, and how to do it with minimal support relationship behaviour (Northouse, 2007). This style of management contributed effectively to isolate and ignore the female engineers.

The present study is based on main two questions which are: What are main difficulties that the Libyan female faced in petroleum engineering sector? And how advantages can be taken of this wasted workforce? This question branches into several other questions as follows:

Petroleum engineering does it suitable for females in general according to their physical and mental body structure?

Dose Libyan society accept women to be working on desert isolated petroleum fields? What are the effects on the female social life?

Why females in Libya chose to study Petroleum engineering? Do they know the consequences of this diction on their future?

The purpose of the proposed study is:

Focus on the main difficulties that the Libyan female faced in petroleum engineering industry.

Find out the reasons why Libyan females choose to study Petroleum engineering?

Find out solutions for these difficulties and an attempt to find a way to take advantage of female petroleum engineers.

Research Design

A survey study will be conducted aiming to achieve the objectives of the study. Quantitative data will be collected through online questionnaires for a sample of Libyan female engineers and individual online interviews for some Libyan oil companies’ managers and supervisors.

Online questionnaires and interviews are have several advantages such as: instant communications access worldwide, acceptable to those reluctant to participate in face to face interview, extremely economical on time, response is at interviewee’s convenience and finally no transcription required. For all these reasons and the researcher decided to conduct online researches and also because the respondents live far away from the researcher.

Population and Sample

The research in this study will set in Tripoli city, in the north of Libya. In Tripoli, there are a huge number of petroleum companies, including Libyan and multinational companies.

A wide sample from female petroleum engineering will be taken to find out their own opinion and also from petroleum companies managers and supervisors to obtain the best solution for the research problem.

Research Tools

Questions for focus group discussions and in-depth interviews, as well as questionnaire provided by researcher were translated into the Arabic language to be make the by the questionnaire easier to understand and corporate.

Data Analysis

Quantitative data will be analyzed by the SPSS 9.0 software program.



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