The Gendered Construction of Technical Self-Confidence: Women's Negotiated Positions in Technical Work Settings
Department of Technology and Social Change The Tema Institute Linköping, Sweden
This paper draws on a study on gender relations in the Swedish IT-business. The analysis is based on semi-structured interviews with women and men working as technical experts and IT-specialists in two Swedish IT-consultant companies. The main findings of this paper concern the (negative) impact of the gendered construction of technical self-confidence on women's careers. The results show that in order to become a successful technical expert it was important to gain the trust of both customers and managers as well as the respect of the colleagues. This was achieved through self-promotion and by the display of technical self-competence, competitiveness and ambition. However, the women found it difficult to adjust to this work ideal and were not comfortable in the role as self-confident, technical expert. Rather than promoting themselves they choose to understate their technical competence when interacting with colleagues and customers, by that reducing their chances of career progression. While the women understated their technical competence the men exaggerated their own expertise and never admitted any lack of technical competence.
The paper argues that women's lack of self-confidence did not reflect any actual lack of technical knowledge. Instead it is proposed that the display of low technical self-confidence was a strategy used by the women in order to become accepted in a work setting dominated by men and permeated by a technical work culture. When trying to conform to the work ideal women were namely met with disapproval and provoked for example pejorative epithets such as 'bitch'. The paper suggests that these manifestations of disapproval indicate a double-bind dilemma for women. Women, who expressed technical self-confidence, failed to perform in accordance with gender-appropriate behaviour. This also explains why a gender-mix often is preferred at work. The positive effects of a gender-mix on the work culture should be attributed to the fact that women's career ambitions are obstructed. Hence, women are not allowed to contribute to the otherwise very competitive work culture.