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The problem of visibility of women in engineering and how they manage it

Fernando, Dulini; Cohen, Laurie; Duberley, Joanne

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Dulini Fernando

Laurie Cohen

Joanne Duberley


Being both visible and invisible: how women engineers manage this paradox and what it means for their careers Women engineers (and others in ultra masculine sectors) have a visibility problem. While they are often excessively visible in terms of their gender and sex appeal, when it comes to their technical expertise, they have to win their space in the limelight. This paradox gets in the way of forming relationships at work and hurts their advancement. We wanted to know how women deal with this. In 2014 we interviewed 50 women engineers in three leading FTSE 100 organizations in the UK. (See sidebar for more on our sample.) All three organizations said they were committed to diversity and attempting to hire, retain, and promote more women engineers. However, numbers remained persistently low, and in all three organizations, attrition was high, especially among junior women. But the women we spoke to had remained in their companies, and several had advanced to senior positions. We asked them about their day-today experiences of work, opportunities for career progress, and how they overcame the challenges they faced. Our respondents talked at length about how their competence was obscured by their sexuality. They felt sexually objectified, and they had to work harder than men to prove their technical competence. Their colleagues often focused on their looks as opposed to their work. From our interviews, we recognized four key strategies that women reported using to deal with this situation. They conformed to " unchallenging " gender stereotypes.


Fernando, D., Cohen, L., & Duberley, J. (2018). The problem of visibility of women in engineering and how they manage it. Harvard Business Review,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 8, 2018
Online Publication Date Oct 10, 2018
Publication Date Oct 10, 2018
Deposit Date Nov 6, 2018
Publicly Available Date Oct 11, 2020
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Public URL
Publisher URL
Contract Date Nov 6, 2018


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