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The professional fate of woman engineers in the computer sciences : Unexpected reversals - H. Stevens

Hélène Stevens
Centre de sociologie du travail, de l’emploi et de la formation, université Libre de Bruxelles, CP 124, 44, avenue Jeanne, 1050 Bruxelles, Belgium
Laboratoire Printemps, université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, 47, boulevard Vauban, 78047 Guyancourt, France

Available online 23 April 2009 on ScienceDirect

In the late 1970s, major changes in techniques and the job structure paved the way for women engineers to enter the French computer industry. At the time, propitious working conditions and career management policies allowed them to be upwardly mobile, while still investing in family life. Given its strong potential and rapid growth, information technology (IT) soon became the most attractive branch in the economy for female engineers. But the downturn in employment during the 1990s and “psychology-based” training reintroduced a sexual division of labor, as women were forced out of the “nobler” positions of engineering and software design, or even out of the branch altogether. It is those two recent trends – first the feminization, then the “defeminization” – of so-called masculine jobs, that are analyzed here.

Keywords : Feminization ; Careers ; Engineering jobs ; Information technology (IT) ; “Psychology-based” management ; France

Article Outline

  • 1. Computer engineering : a privileged branch for integrating women engineers
    • 1.1. “Women have always worked” in the computer sciences, it is said
    • 1.2. The birth of the professional – male – figure of the computer scientist
    • 1.3. How women managed to enter the profession
    • 1.4. Women as full-fledged computer scientists
  • 2. The turning point of the 1990s, and how it was handled
    • 2.1. The turn towards Services
    • 2.2. The “Business of Self” (Entreprise de Soi) : a managerial system used to observe how people conceive of their professional futures
  • 3. Precarious masculine and feminine careers
    • 3.1. Women rule themselves out of the masculine field of engineering
    • 3.2. Dwindling possibilities in the computer sciences
    • 3.3. Femininity to the rescue
    • 3.4. Uncertainty remains
  • 4. Conclusion
  • References

Sociologie du Travail
Volume 51, Supplement 1, June 2009, Pages e15–e33
Translation by Gabrielle Varro