Investigating perceptions of intelligence as an approach to understanding female representation in technology and engineering education.
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Gender representation in technology and engineering education is generally not equitable with females being underrepresented in many areas (e.g. Sultan, Axell, & Hallström, 2018; Yoder, 2017). While there are many perspectives on gender representation in technical fields, from the perspective of advancing engineering and technology as disciplines, an underrepresentation of females indicates a potential loss of talent. It is therefore pertinent to continue trying to understand why this gender disparity exists. The field-specific beliefs hypothesis (Leslie, Cimpian, Meyer, & Freeland, 2015) suggests that women are underrepresented to a greater extent in academic disciplines perceived by practitioners to require more raw intellectual talent. In a large scale study, Leslie et al. (2015) provided evidence supporting this hypothesis above three competing hypotheses. Based on these findings, this study explores what ‘raw intellectual talent’ is perceived to mean in engineering. In a previous study, Buckley, O’Connor, Seery, Hyland and Canty (2018) found that undergraduate initial technology teacher education students in Ireland perceived intelligence in technology education to describe three components of general, social and technological competence. In this study, the methodology used by Buckley et al. (2018) will be adopted for the context of engineering. A survey asking what characteristics describe intelligence in engineering was administered to university students pursuing bachelor’s and master’s degrees in a variety of engineering fields in both Ireland and Sweden. The data was coded both inductively and deductively, and frequency statistics were used to analyse the data. The results suggest that engineering likely has a unique characteristic in terms of engineering competency, and that is it probably knowledge based. In terms of future work regarding gender differences, this suggests that exploring young girls’ self-perceptions in terms of engineering specific competencies may be possible, which could significantly impact efforts to address the gender disparity in the field.
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