Gendered Engineering in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia
Sarah Ashwin Irina Kozina & Roberto M. Fernandez
Engineering tends to be viewed as a paradigmatic “inhospitable” professional environment for women (Faulkner 2009a; 2009b). A growing comparative literature seeks to explain the low enrolments of women in engineering higher education and employment. In order to scrutinise the key arguments in this literature, we focus on the case of (post-)Soviet Russia, comparing women’s participation in engineering education and employment before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Soviet Russia is an interesting “negative” case in relation to the literature on barriers to women’s participation in engineering. By 1979 engineering employment in Russia had reached gender parity. After the opening up of educational choice in post-Soviet Russia, women’s higher education enrolment and employment in engineering declined. Nevertheless, it did so unevenly across engineering subdisciplines, with substantial “feminine” enclaves remaining within engineering.
We compare Soviet and post-Soviet Russia in order to interrogate existing theories of gender segregation. In particular we focus on Charles and Bradley’s seminal contribution to the literature (2009), which emphasized the role of “gender essentialist ideology” (GEI) in shaping women’s curricular and career choices. In their model, when educational and professional opportunities are more restricted and societies less affluent, GEI can be disrupted, but once choice opens out GEI becomes the dominant influence on selection of educational fields. Our case study leads us to propose a more dynamic model in which GEI is influenced by and interacts with economic, institutional, demographic and social factors in order to influence career choices.