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556543

research-article2014

SPXXXX10.1177/0731121414556543Sociological PerspectivesCech

Gendered Work and Culture

Engineers and Engineeresses?


Self-conceptions and the
Development of Gendered
Professional Identities

Sociological Perspectives
2015, Vol. 58(1) 5677
The Author(s) 2014
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DOI: 10.1177/0731121414556543
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Erin Cech1

Abstract
Do men and women in the same field develop different professional identities? This paper
theoretically articulates and empirically explores a mechanism of such gendering: Selfconceptions may filter the identity traits emphasized by professional cultures so that only traits
consistent with ones self-conceptions are likely to be adopted into ones professional identity.
As such, systematic gender differences in self-conceptions may be relayed into gender variation
in professional identities. Using longitudinal survey data of engineering students from four
U.S. colleges, I find that four self-conceptions, two gendered and two gender-neutral, predict
students adoption of four professional identity traits: problem-solving prowess, technological
leadership, managerial/communication skills, and social consciousness. Two of these traits are
gendered: Women are less likely than men to value technological leadership but more likely to
value social consciousness. Suggesting possible career consequences of professional identities, I
find that three professional identity traits predict students intentions to remain in engineering.
Keywords
professional identity, self-conceptions, professional culture, gender inequality, engineering

Introduction
Why does inequality in professional occupations endure? Beyond well-documented institutionaland interactional-level processes of inequality (e.g., Bielby and Baron 1986; Gorman 2005;
Ridgeway 2006; Risman 2004), recent scholars have begun to ask how the individual-level processes involving mens and womens self-assessments (Correll 2004, 2001), confidence (Cech
et al. 2011), and indulgence of gendered identities (Charles and Bradley 2009) can impact career
outcomes and reinforce segregation. This scholarship examines how inequality is reproduced at
the individual level via broadly held cultural beliefs, but we know far less about how cultural
processes within professionsespecially those connected to professional culturescontribute to
gendered experiences and outcomes (Cech 2013a).
At the intersection of professional cultures and individual-level decision-making processes
are professional identities, a factor that has been largely ignored in considerations of gender

1Rice

University, Houston, TX, USA

Corresponding Author:
Erin Cech, Department of Sociology, Rice University, 6100 Main St., MS 28, Houston, TX, 77005 USA.
Email: ecech@rice.edu

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Cech

inequality within professions. Professional identities are the relatively stable and enduring constellation of attributions, beliefs, values, motives, and experiences in terms of which people
define themselves in a professional role (Ibarra 1999:764, referencing Schein 1979).1 Existing
research (e.g., Fletcher 1999; Pierce 1995; Roth 2006) illustrates that women and men in gendertyped professions often experience their professional roles differently, but little is known about
the interplay between professional cultures, professional identities, and these differential experiences. Seeking to better understand these processes, I ask, how might men and women develop
different professional identities? What role do gender-differentiated self-conceptions play in the
development of these gendered professional identities? The purpose of this paper is to theoretically articulate and empirically explore a mechanism whereby systematic differences in selfconceptions are translated into gender variation in professional identities.
Specifically, I argue that during the professional education process, aspiring professionals are
expected to develop professional identities that uphold the values and norms of their professions
culture (Pratt, Rockmann, and Kaufmann 2006). But neophytes are not blank slates onto which
their educational experiences impart complete and monolithic professional identities (Costello
2005). Rather, professional identity development is filtered by individuals existing self-conceptions. Self-conceptions are the systems of generalization or theories people hold about themselves that serve as the referent for self-expressive thought and behavior (Markus and Wurf
1987). Self-conceptions influence which traits neophytes adopt into their professional identities
and which they reject: Only identity traits consistent with existing self-conceptions are likely
to be adopted into their professional identities. As such, any systematic variation in selfconceptions along the lines of gender (Lueptow, Garovich-Szabo, and Lueptow 2001) or other
axes of difference may translate into variation in the professional identities that neophytes
develop.2 Gender variation in professional identities may have consequences for a variety of
career outcomes, such as whether men and women feel that their profession fits them, whether
they feel taken seriously as professionals, and whether they intend to remain in their profession
long-term.
This paper investigates this filtering process among a longitudinal sample of undergraduate
engineering students. Engineering is a useful site in which to study this mechanism because engineering remains strongly male dominated and masculine stereotyped, even as other previously
male-dominated professions (e.g., law and medicine) have seen a marked increase in women
(Burge 2013; Morgan, Gelbgiser, and Weeden 2013). Existing research documents the challenges
women face negotiating professional roles in this field and being taken seriously as engineers
(Cech et al. 2011; Faulkner 2009; Hatmaker 2012). In addition, the overwhelming majority of
professional identity research has examined law (e.g., Bogoch 1999; Costello 2005) or medical
and nursing professions (e.g., Pratt et al. 2006), with less attention paid to the professional identities of scientists and engineers.3
This study follows students from freshman year through 18 months post graduation who are
enrolled in engineering programs at a diverse set of four U.S. colleges: the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology (MIT), the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering (Olin), Smith College, and
the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass). While not representative of all U.S. colleges,
this sample includes data from a usefully broad spectrum of programs that educate engineers in
the United States. In addition, most sociological studies of professional identities have been conducted qualitatively (e.g., Ibarra 1999; Jorgenson 2002), so the quantitative, longitudinal nature
of this study is useful.
I examine the effects of four self-conception measures, two gendered (emotional, illogical)
and two gender-neutral (social and generality-oriented), on the importance to students of four
professional identity traits: problem-solving prowess, technological leadership, managerial/communication skills, and social consciousness. As explained in the operationalization section, the
first two of these professional identity traits are highly valued in the culture of engineering, while

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Sociological Perspectives 58(1)

the latter two are marginal (Cech 2013a; Faulkner 2000). Technical leadership and social consciousness differ significantly by gender. Consistent with the hypothesized filtering process, selfconception measures predict respondents uptake of all four professional identity traits. Exploring
the possible consequences of professional identities on career outcomes, problem-solving prowess
and technological leadership are positively related to respondents intentions to persist in engineering five years after they graduate, while the managerial/communication skills trait is negatively related to intentions to persist. The next section describes the professional culture,
self-conception, and professional identity literatures that inform this study and then explains the
hypothesized filtering process.

Theoretical Background
Professional Identity Development
Professions are more than the sum of their characteristic tasks and expertise; they also nurture
meaning systems about those tasks and expertise (Trice 1993; Weeden and Grusky 2005).
Professional cultures are the semi-autonomous systems of meaning, rituals, myths, habits, and
symbols associated with a profession and its activities (Abbott 1988; Cech 2013a; Grusky 2005).
On the path to becoming a full-fledged member of a profession, neophytes are expected to be
folded into the professional culture, identify with it, and come to reproduce the culture by espousing its values, beliefs, and worldviews as their own (Barley and Tolbert 1997; Becker et al. 1961;
Costello 2005; Dryburgh 1999; Pratt et al. 2006).
The meaning systems within professional cultures promote a multiplicity of professional identity traitssome of which are highly valued (e.g., argumentativeness among lawyers; patience
among elementary school teachers), and others which are marginal (e.g., writing skills among
physicists). In engineering culture, for example, valued professional identity traits include commitment to technological advancement and logical and practical problem-solving (Faulkner
2000; McIlwee and Robinson 1992). While engineers often recognize that engineering has the
potential to contribute to societal change (National Academy of Engineering [NAE] 2008), social
consciousness and communication skills are usually neither highly valued nor heavily emphasized in engineering educationa difference in emphasis that registers among engineering students themselves (Cech 2014).
Though the process of professional socialization, students learn which traits are most expected,
valued, and rewarded (Becker et al. 1961; Costello 2005; Dryburgh 1999). But, in contrast to
early sociological understandings of professional identities (e.g., Parsons 1949, see Costello
2005), students who undergo the same professional education do not necessarily emerge with
identical professional identities (Fine 1996; Pratt et al. 2006).4
Social-psychological literature (e.g., Ibarra 1999) describes the iterative process through
which neophytes experiment with the multiplicity of identity traits, both highly valued and marginal, that they encounter during their training. Students try on these traits through a process of
experimentation with temporary identities called provisional selves. These provisional selves
bridge the gap between [neophytes] current capacities and self-conceptions and the representations they hold about what attitudes and behaviors are expected of that new role (Ibarra
1999:765). As students continue in their training, they decide which of the traits in their provisional selves they will adopt into their professional identities, and which they will abandon.
But how do individuals decide whether to adopt or discard the traits they try on? Students do
not arrive at the start of their professional education as tabulae rasae; they enter with alreadyformed and robust self-beliefs.5 A crucial factor in the adoption of professional identity traits is
the consistency of these traits with students existing self-beliefs (Ibarra 1999; Swann 1987). A
trait that is consistent with ones self-beliefs is likely to be adopted into ones professional

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identity; a trait that is dissonant is likely to be dropped, even if it is a dominant identity trait in
the culture of the profession to which one is aspiring. This filtering is part of broader consistencyseeking processes described by identity control theory, whereby individuals rely on positive and
negative feedback to regulate their self-beliefs (Moore and Robinson 2006; Owens, Robinson,
and Smith-Lovin 2010; Robinson 2007). In this feedback process, an individuals uptake of the
identity features within a social context (in this case, the professional identity traits promoted by
ones professional culture) provides inputs that are judged against his or her existing identity
features (in this case, self-conceptions). When inputs are not consistent with existing identity
features, this discrepancy becomes the basis for adjustment or rejection of those traits (Robinson
2007).
This sort of consistency-seeking is an enduring finding in social-psychological research:
Americans usually act in ways that promote the survival of their self-conceptions (Swann
1987:1039) and tend to disregard or avoid information that threatens their existing understandings of self (Owens et al. 2010). To maintain their self-conceptions, individuals often seek out
interactions and environments that confirm their self-conceptions.6 Because of these strategies,
self-conceptions are fairly resistant to change, even among college students undergoing a time of
great life changes (Schlenker and Trudeau 1990).7
Although professional socialization is powerful and most students have a clear sense of the
dominant identity traits within their profession (Costello 2005), professional identities are far
more malleable than students existing self-conceptions (Markus and Nurius 1986), especially
during the early stages of their professional development. While self-conceptions and professional identities are likely co-constitutive to some degree, particularly during longer time horizons over the course of a career (Johnson 2001; Robinson 2007), I expect that professional
identities are more likely to be adjusted to students self-conceptions than vice versa.8
Beyond an interest in how individuals develop different priorities and perspectives toward
what it means to be a professional, this professional identity development process is interesting
sociologically because it may have consequences for other career outcomes. For example,
students who adopt professional identity traits that are most valued by their profession may be
more likely to persist, sensing a fit between their identities and the priorities of their profession. Students who reject the most valued identity traits of their profession may cobble together
professional identities that are quite different from the traits most respected by the culture of
their profession, and thus may be more likely to leave the profession altogether (Cech et al.
2011).9

Gender and Professional Identity Development


Self-conceptions, as noted, may help aspiring professionals sift between the professional identity
traits they end up embracing and those they discard or ignore. If self-conceptions systematically
vary by socio-demographic categories such as gender, then this filtering process may result in
men and women developing somewhat different professional identities. Prior research finds that
many self-conceptions differ systematically by gender (Lee 1998; Lueptow et al. 2001). As a
result of childhood socialization, sustained experiences with gendered institutions, structural and
organizational constraints, the internalization of gender role expectations, and otherwise living
within an unequal, patriarchal social order, self-beliefs tend to differ between men and women
and tend to align with stereotypical characteristics of women and men (Markus and Kitayama
2003; Ridgeway and Correll 2004). These gendered self-conceptions, furthermore, are reinforced
through individuals day-to-day interactions and encounters with gendered institutions (Ridgeway
and Correll 2004; Risman 2004). Broadly speaking, if self-conceptions filter professional identity development, and some self-conceptions are systematically gendered, then professional identities may come to vary by gender as well. Although beyond the scope of this paper, similar

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filtering processes for other axes of difference (e.g., class, race/ethnicity) might be expected, to
the extent that self-conceptions differ systematically along these axes.
This approach to understanding intra-profession processes of gender inequality differs from
existing work in several ways. First, recent literature (e.g., Charles and Bradley 2009; Correll
2001, 2004; Marini et al. 1996) argues that individuals internalization of cultural beliefs about
mens and womens natural talents, priorities, and abilities influences their career decisions.
While I am similarly interested in how gender beliefs influence career outcomes, I focus on how
respondents already-gendered self-beliefs (rather than their beliefs about men and women
broadly) influence the sort of professionals respondents see themselves being and the sort of
commitments they develop toward their work. This focus on self-beliefs is also in contrast to
social-psychological research that examines variation in mens and womens general values (e.g.,
extrinsic vs. intrinsic rewards) and work-specific values (e.g., high salaries vs. opportunity for
interaction; Beutel and Johnson 2004; Beutel and Marini 1995; Marini et al. 1996; Weisgram,
Bigler, and Liben 2010). Such general values are likely co-constructed with self-conceptions
over time and, although beyond the scope of this paper, a similar filtering process may exist
whereby gendered values influence students adoption of professional identity traits. Finally, my
focus on professional identities attends to the culture of the profession into which one is being
socialized, rather than to broad, societal-level cultural beliefs.10
In sum, this paper proposes a mechanism through which the professional identities of men and
women may come to systematically differ: Self-conceptions influence how neophytes adopt the
identity traits emphasized by their professions culture. To the extent that self-conceptions vary
systematically between men and women, this variation may translate into gender differences in
professional identities as well. Such gendered professional identities may have consequences for
the reproduction of gender inequality in professions: These professional identities might not just
be differentthey may be differentially advantageous for success and persistence in the
profession.
A longitudinal panel of engineering students is used to empirically explore this mechanism.
Research on gender in engineering has shown that the most culturally valued characteristics in
engineering are those associated with masculinity, whereas those stereotyped as feminine or
empathetic are devalued (Faulkner 2000, 2009; Fletcher 1999). Such cultural beliefs influence
the perception of women as competent professionals (Faulkner 2009; Fletcher 1999), womens
feelings of belonging within the field (Dryburgh 1999; Hatmaker 2012; Jorgenson 2002; McIlwee
and Robinson 1992), and even womens remuneration for certain work activities (Cech 2013a).
Previous literature has documented the identity work and identity negotiation women engineers undertake (Faulkner 2009; Hatmaker 2013; McIlwee and Robinson 1992) as well as the
differential meanings that men and women may develop about engineering work (Tonso 2007)
and about themselves as engineers (Hatmaker 2012). As such, engineering is a particularly useful
site for understanding the development of professional identities.
I examine four professional identity traits out of a number of other possibly salient characteristics: two of which are dominant within the professional culture of engineering (problem-solving prowess and technological leadership) and two of which are more marginal (managerial/
communication skills and social consciousness). These measures are described in the next section. Suggesting their validity in the context of engineering, these four professional identity traits
align with several categories of engineering roles that emerged inductively out of Deneen M.
Hatmakers (2012) research on engineering practitioners.11 I expect that stereotypically femaletyped self-conceptions (i.e., emotional and illogical self-conceptions) will be negatively related
to students adoption of the more valued (and masculine-typed) professional identity traits (problem-solving prowess and technological leadership), and positively related to less valued (more
feminine-typed) identity traits of managerial/communication skills and social consciousness.
Partly as a result of this filtering process, I expect that, compared with mens professional

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identities, womens professional identities will be less likely to emphasize the dominant identity
traits and more likely to emphasize the two more marginal traits.
I begin by examining the extent to which these self-conceptions and professional identity
traits vary by gender. To investigate the role of self-conceptions in the development of identity
traits, structural equation models with latent measures of each professional identity trait are used
to determine the effect of self-conceptions on students emphasis of these traits. Finally, to
explore whether professional identities might have career consequences, I use the four traits to
predict respondents intention to persist in engineering after graduation.

Data and Method


The longitudinal panel data includes engineering students enrolled in four U.S. colleges: MIT,
Olin College, Smith College, and UMass Amherst. The sample includes 312 students (166 men
and 146 women) who entered college as engineering majors in 2003 and were surveyed each
spring from freshman year through 18 months after graduation. While not representative of engineering students across the nation, the sample does include students from the wide spectrum of
pedagogical approaches to engineering education: an elite private technical school, an engineering-only school, a small women-only liberal arts college, and a large land-grant university.
Students completed online surveys sent to them via email and repeated attempts were made to
sustain the panel over time.12 The Time 1 self-conception measures were taken in respondents
sophomore year, and the Time 2 measures of professional identity traits were taken in respondents third or fourth year, depending on the trait.

Dependent Variables: Professional Identity Traits


I examine four professional identity traits, two of which are highly valued and two that are more
marginal. These identity traits are based on one of two question prompts: what, in your opinion,
makes a successful career among a set of characteristics related to problem-solving prowess and
managerial/communication skills (asked in students third year) and the personal importance to
you of another set of characteristics related to technological leadership and social consciousness
(asked in students fourth year). Although the question prompts differ in timing and question
wording, both sets of questions tap dimensions of respondents professional identitiesthe values, beliefs, and motives through which they define themselves as professionals. In addition,
because the first question prompt asks respondents to reflect on their own opinion in their answer,
rather than asking them to reflect on what is important in engineering careers in general, the
survey intended to steer students away from giving answers that were simply reflections of the
characteristics valued in engineering. I find evidence of the hypothesized filtering process with
measures that use either question prompt, suggesting that this filtering is robust to variation in
timing and question wording. Table 1 presents the operationalization of the dependent variables,
independent variables, and controls, including the manifest variables that make up each latent
professional identity measure. Table 1 also provides the fit indices for the confirmatory factor
analysis (CFA) for each of these four latent professional identity measures. The test for discriminant validity between these four measures is significant at the p = .009 level.13
The first professional identity trait is problem-solving prowessrespondents identification
with the problem-solving abilities assumed to underlie engineering work. The application of
abstract knowledge to real world problems is understood to be the basis of engineers claim to
expertise, and thus, this identity trait is deeply engrained in the professional culture of engineering (Hughes 2005). Engineers, in fulfilling their professional role, are expected to take great
pride in their problem-solving abilities, as display of such prowess is seen as a marker of engineering competence par excellence (Florman 1994). Note that this measure does not capture

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Table 1. Operationalization of Dependent and Independent Variables.


Time 1 self-conception measures
(Year 2) Usually I am very unemotional = 1
to very emotional = 7
Usually I am very illogical = 1 to very logical = 7
Usually I am very asocial = 1 to very social = 7
Usually I seek practical answers = 1 to usually I
seek generalities = 7
Persistence measure (18 months post
graduation)
Intentional persistence: How likely is it that
you will be an engineer in five years? (1
= very unlikely to 4 = very likely)
Demographic measures and controls
(Year 1)
Female (1 = yes, 0 = no)
Graduated from MIT (1 = yes, 0 = no)
Graduated from Olin (1 = yes, 0 = no)
Graduated from Smith (1 = yes, 0 = no)
Graduated from UMass (1 = yes, 0 = no)
Hispanic/Latino (1 = yes, 0 = no)
Black/African American (1 = yes, 0 = no)
Asian/Asian American (1 = yes, 0 = no)
White (1 = yes, 0 = no)
GPA (4-point scale)

Time 2 professional identity trait latent


measures Problem-solving prowess (Year 3): What,
in your opinion, makes a successful career?
problem-solving skillsa; personal persistence;
attention to detail; working in teams; maintaining
updated skills and expertise (1 = very unimportant
to 5 = very important).
CFA: 2 = 34.9, df = 5, CFI = .830, RMSEA = .113;
all regression estimates significant at the p < .000
level. ( = .715)
Technological leader (Year 4): Personal importance
to me of making important scientific discoveries;
creating/managing future technologies; inventing
new technologiesa; being a leader in my field (1 =
very unimportant to 5 = very important).
CFA: 2 = 9.5, df = 2, CFI = .977, RMSEA = .110;
all regression estimates significant at the p < .000
level. ( = .826)
Managerial/communication skills (Year 3): What,
in your opinion, makes a successful career?
management skillsa; writing skills; leadership
skills; social skills (1 = very unimportant to 5 = very
important).
CFA: 2 = 10.2, df = 2, CFI = .950, RMSEA = .115;
all regression estimates significant at the p < .000
level. ( = .758)
Social consciousness (Year 4): Personal importance
to me of improving societya; being active in my
community; promoting racial understanding;
helping others (1 = very unimportant to 5 = very
important).
CFA: 2 = 0.3, df = 2, CFI = 1.000, RMSEA = .000;
all regression estimates significant at the p < .000
level. ( = .794)

Note. MIT = Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Olin = Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering; UMass =
University of Massachusetts Amherst; GPA = grade point average; CFA = confirmatory factor analysis; CFI =
comparative fit index; RMSEA = root mean square error of approximation.
aIndicates the reference indicator for each latent construct.

respondents assessments of their skills as problem solvers but rather their identification with the
role of engineers as problem solvers. This latent measure includes variables asking what, in your
opinion, makes a successful career: problem-solving skills, personal persistence, attention
to detail, working in teams, and maintaining updated skills and expertise (1 = very unimportant to 5 = very important).
Related to problem-solving prowess, I examine respondents identification with the role of
engineers as technological innovators. Is it important to them to be personally involved in inventing advanced technologies and participating in scientific breakthroughs? Technological leadership, like problem-solving prowess, is exalted in the value system of engineering (Dryburgh
1999; Faulkner 2007). This latent measure includes the following variables: personal importance to me of: making important discoveries, creating/managing future technologies,
inventing new technologies, and being a leader in my field (1 = very unimportant to 5 = very
important).

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Problem-solving prowess and technological leadership are highly valued identity traits in
engineering culture. Those who embark on a degree in engineering are expected to develop these
identity traits, as such traits are displays of individual commitment to values at the core of engineering culture. The final two professional identity traits are more marginal within engineering
culture. The managerial/communication skills trait captures respondents identification with a
career that emphasizes management, communication, leadership, and social interaction. These
skills are certainly necessary for the successful execution of everyday engineering work (Fletcher
1999), particularly for engineers who work as project leaders, but they are undervalued in engineering culture relative to problem-solving prowess and technological leadership (Faulkner
2000, 2007; Hatmaker 2012).14 These skills are often also feminized and disappear behind
more technically oriented tasks (Fletcher 1999). Again, the managerial/communication skills
trait does not capture respondents assessment of their own abilities as communicators or managers, but rather the extent to which they believe that such skills are important professionally.15 This
latent measure includes the variables, what, in your opinion, makes a successful career: management skills, writing skills, leadership skills, and social skills (1 = very unimportant to
5 = very important).
Finally, I investigate the importance to students of social consciousness. This dimension taps
a vague belief in engineering culture that the profession exists to improve society (NAE 2005).
While social consciousness underlies engineerings code of ethics and is recognized as important
in the abstract, social consciousness is not usually emphasized in day-to-day engineering practice, especially in comparison with problem-solving and technological leadership. In fact, concerns for social consciousness are often de-valued, bracketed as political or irrelevant to
on-the-ground engineering work (Cech 2014; Faulkner 2000). Social consciousness includes the
following variables: personal importance to me of: improving society, being active in my
community, promoting racial understanding, and helping others.

Independent Variables: Self-conceptions


Consistent with prior research on self-conceptions (e.g., Epstein 1973; Gecas 1982; Lee 1998), I
do not attempt to capture the entirety of respondents self-beliefs, but rather a set of self-conceptions that helps shed light on the mechanism of professional identity development theorized
here.16 In their sophomore year, students were asked to place themselves along a series of attitudinal spectrum scales (developed by Lee 1998), for example, Usually I am very unemotional
(=1) to very emotional (=7). I measure four specific self-conception measures: emotional (vs.
unemotional), illogical (vs. logical), social (vs. asocial), and generality-oriented (vs.
practicality-oriented).
The analysis uses structural equation modeling (SEM) to predict the relationship between
Time 1 self-conceptions and respondents valuation of the four professional identity traits at Time
2. Models include controls for important axes along which self-conceptions and professional
identity traits might differ: respondents gender, school (with UMass as the comparison category), race/ethnicity indicators (whether they identify as Hispanic, African American, and/or
Asian/Asian American, with white as the comparison category), and respondents college grade
point average (GPA).17 Following the recommendation of Paul D. Allison (2001) and others,
AMOS maximum likelihood procedure is used to handle missing data resulting from skipped
survey waves.18 See Table 1 for the operationalization of all measures.

Analytic Strategy
Table 2 presents means and standard errors for all respondents and for men and women separately to determine whether self-conceptions and the manifest measures behind each of the

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Sociological Perspectives 58(1)

Table 2. Univariate and Bivariate Statistics, Together and for Men and Women Separately.
All
(N = 312)

Women
(n = 146)
SE

Demographic measures
Female
0.468
.028
Hispanic
0.040
.016
Black/African American
0.064
.014
0.222
.024
Asian/Asian American
MIT
0.519
.028
Olin
0.170
.021
Smith
0.157
.021
UMass
0.154
.020
College GPA
3.355
.032
Time 1 self-conception measures
Usually I am emotional, 1 to 7
4.515
.117
Usually I am illogical, 1 to 7
2.133
.073
Usually I am social, 1 to 7
4.958
.119
Usually I am generality-oriented,
4.440
.137
1 to 7
Time 2 professional identity traits
Problem-solving prowess latent measure
Problem-solving skills
4.614
.039
Personal persistence
4.421
.051
4.473
.047
Working in teams
Maintaining updated skills and
4.266
.048
expertise
Attention to detail
4.218
.056
Technological leader latent measure
Making important scientific
2.113
.067
discoveries
Creating/managing future
2.514
.066
technologies
Becoming a leader in my field
2.670
.063
Inventing new technologies
2.294
.068
Managerial/communication skills latent measure
Management skills
4.218
.051
Writing skills
4.243
.055
Leadership skills
4.293
.053
Social skills
4.431
.049
Social consciousness latent measure
Improving society
3.270
.052
Being active in my community
2.688
.062
Promoting racial
2.200
.065
understanding
Helping others
2.891
.060
Persistence measure
Intention to remain in
2.966
.074
engineering in 5 years

Men
(n = 166)

SE

SE

0.028
0.089
0.274
0.459
0.158
0.332
0.052
3.394

.019
.024
.037
.041
.030
.035
.021
.041

0.052
0.042
0.176
0.572
0.181

0.247
3.314

.022
0.05

4.962
2.342
4.924
4.577

.147
.109
.158
.174

4.114
1.943
4.989
4.318

.169
.093
.175
.206

***
**

4.604
4.420
4.497
4.301

.054
.051
.062
.068

4.624
4.430
4.448
4.228

.053
.074
.067
.064

4.168

.077

4.269

.074

2.091

.067

2.130

.067

2.382

.066

2.533

.066

2.583
1.961

.063
.068

2.751
2.592

.063
.068

***

4.206
4.277
4.287
4.464

.074
.070
.067
.062

4.231
4.209
4.300
4.396

.070
.085
.082
.076

3.359
2.845
2.420

.069
.086
.095

3.192
2.548
2.004

.076
.087
.084

*
**

3.087

.078

2.715

.086

**

2.917

.114

3.011

.096

.025
.016
.030
.039
.030

Note. MIT = Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Olin = Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering; UMass =
University of Massachusetts Amherst; GPA = grade point average.
*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001, two-tailed test.

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Table 3. Results of SEM Models Predicting Four Professional Identity Trait Latent Measures with
Demographics and Controls.

Female
MIT
Olin
Smith
Hispanic/Latino
Black/African
American
Asian/Asian
American
GPA
2(df)
RMSEA
CFI

Problem-solving
prowess latent
measure

Technological
leadership
latent measure

Managerial/
communication
latent measure

Social
consciousness
latent measure

Unstandardized
coefficient

Unstandardized
coefficient

Unstandardized
coefficient

Unstandardized
coefficient

.024
.102
.064
.003
.236*
.029

.505***
.064
.102
.109
.299
.066

.027
.061
.037
.092
.174
.025

.197**
.041
.007
.072
.080
.283*

.017

.194

.087

.031

.203*
97.2 (37)
.900
.072

.054
48.1 (26)
.971
.052

.192*
38.6 (26)
.978
.039

.013
40.9 (26)
.978
.043

Note. UMass is comparison category for school and white is comparison category for race/ethnicity. SEM = structural
equation modeling; MIT = Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Olin = Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering;
UMass = University of Massachusetts Amherst; GPA = grade point average; RMSEA = root mean square error of
approximation; CFI = comparative fit index.
*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001, two-tailed test.

latent professional identity traits differ systematically by gender. I use structural equation modeling (SEM) to test for gender differences in the latent professional identity trait measures net
of controls (Table 3). Then, Table 4 presents SEMs testing whether self-conceptions predict
respondents adherence to each of the four professional identity traits. Finally, to suggest the
possible career consequences of these gendered professional identities, I use them to predict
respondents intentions 18 months after graduation to remain in engineering for the next five
years (Table 5).

Results
Two of the four self-conception measures differ by gender: Women engineering students are
more likely to perceive themselves as emotional and illogical, compared with mens self-conceptions. Several of the manifest measures that make up the latent professional identity indicators
also vary significantly between men and women: Women are less likely than men to value two of
the technical leadership manifest measures, but more likely to value three of the social consciousness manifest variables.
Table 3 presents the SEM with demographic measures predicting each of the latent professional identity measures. Each identity trait is predicted independently in Table 3 for the purposes
of illustration; the professional identity measures are pooled in the same model in subsequent
analyses. The second column in Table 3 indicates that, net of race/ethnicity, school and GPA,
women are significantly less likely to incorporate technological leadership into their professional
identity traits than men. However, women are more likely than men to value the social consciousness trait.

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Sociological Perspectives 58(1)

Table 4. SEM Models Using Self-conceptions, Demographics, and Controls to Predict Four Professional
Identity Traits.

Model with
emotional selfconception

Model with
illogical selfconception

Model with
social selfconception

Model with
generality-oriented
self-conception

Unstandardized
coefficient

Unstandardized
coefficient

Unstandardized
coefficient

Unstandardized
coefficient

Self-conception PS
.102***
.059
Self-conception TL
.030
.108
Self-conception MC
.037
.020
.018
.016
Self-conception SC
Demographics and controls for each professional identity trait
FemalePS
.049
.001
MITPS
.008
.106
OlinPS
.006
.054
SmithPS
.042
.027
HispanicPS
.185
.253
African AmericanPS
.101
.021
AsianPS
.006
.009
GPAPS
.195*
.187*
FemaleTL
.526***
.453***
MITTL
.086
.073
OlinTL
.123
.084
SmithTL
.109
.055
HispanicTL
.320
.330
African AmericanTL
.080
.054
AsianTL
.197
.209
GPATL
.052
.024
FemaleMC
.001
.019
MITMC
.027
.062
OlinMC
.065
.041
SmithMC
.107
.082
HispanicMC
.160
.183
African AmericanMC
.008
.024
AsianMC
.091
.090
GPAMC
.195*
.189*
FemaleSC
.182**
.205**
MITSC
.059
.044
OlinSC
.021
.005
SmithSC
.066
.062
HispanicSC
.094
.087
African AmericanSC
.272*
.285*
AsianSC
.032
.035
GPASC
.026
.012
2(df)
426.3 (263)
421.1 (263)
RMSEA
.878
.875
CFI
.051
.050

.023
.079*
.085**
.093***
.022
.105
.063
.004
.223
.010
.020
.203*
.498***
.072
.117
.122
.258
.101
.196
.034
.016
.079
.025
.085
.134
.081
.074
.183*
.205**
.056
.026
.082
.035
.234
.033
.008
416.8 (263)
.879
.050

.076**
.076*
.025
.067**
.001
.038
.132
.057
.200
.040
.115
.145
.482***
.001
.149
.16
.271
.11
.093
.048
.020
.041
.017
.113
.168
.042
.056
.174
.219**
.007
.053
.108
.059
.238
.062
.047
422.8 (263)
.877
.050

Note. UMass is comparison category for school and white is comparison category for race/ethnicity. SEM = structural
equation modeling; PS = problem-solving; TL = tech leadership; MC = managerial/communication skills; SC = social
consciousness; MIT = Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Olin = Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering;
UMass = University of Massachusetts Amherst; GPA = grade point average; RMSEA = root mean square error of
approximation; CFI = comparative fit index.
p<.10. *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001, two-tailed test.

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Table 5. Results of SEM Model Predicting Intentions to Persist in Engineering in Five Years with
Professional Identity Trait Latent Measures, Demographics, and Controls.
Intentions to persist

Unstandardized coefficient

Professional identity traits


Problem-solving prowess
Technological leader
Managerial/communication skills
Social consciousness
Controls
Female
MIT
Olin
Smith
Hispanic/Latino
Black/African American
Asian/Asian American
GPA
2(df)
RMSEA
CFI

.724*
.285*
.655*
.209
.085
.195
.074
.178
.312
.102
.165
.049
377.0 (230)
.902
.045

Note. SEM = structural equation modeling; UMass is comparison category for school and white is comparison category
for race/ethnicity. MIT = Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Olin = Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering;
UMass = University of Massachusetts Amherst; GPA = grade point average; RMSEA = root mean square error of
approximation; CFI = comparative fit index.
*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001, two-tailed test.

I theorized above that self-conceptions filter professional identity development in engineering


education, affecting the likelihood that students will incorporate these traits into their own professional identities. Table 4 uses Time 1 self-conception measures to predict students emphasis
of the Time 2 professional identity traits. I run the models separately for each of the self-conception measures to mitigate concerns over multicollinearity among the self-conception measures;
professional identity traits are included as multiple dependent variables in the same structural
equation model. Models include controls for gender, race/ethnicity, school, and GPA.
The first column in Table 4 presents the unstandardized regression coefficient estimates of the
emotional self-conception measure predicting each of the four professional identity measures
(plus coefficient estimates between the control variables and each of the professional identity
traits). The emotional self-conception measure is strongly and negatively related to an emphasis
on problem-solving prowess (coefficient = .102, p < .001): Students who perceive themselves
as emotional are less likely to emphasize problem-solving prowess in their professional identities
than those with less emotional self-conceptions. Although, overall, men and women do not differentially emphasize problem-solving prowess (Table 2), it is important that such a gendered
self-conception influences whether students integrate this culturally valued trait into their professional identities. Beyond this sample, the problem-solving prowess identity trait may differ by
gender in the broader population of engineering students.
The second column in Table 4 presents the relationships between the illogical self-conception
and the four professional identity trait latent measures. Those with more illogical self-conceptions
are marginally less likely to value technological leadershipa trait that is highly valued in engineering culture. As Table 2 illustrates, women are more likely than men to perceive themselves as

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Sociological Perspectives 58(1)

illogical, suggesting that this gender-typed self-conception decreases adoption of a valued professional identity trait (technological leader) that, itself, significantly differs between women and
men in this sample. The coefficient between female and the technological leadership measure
decreases by 11% between Tables 3 and 4, suggesting that accounting for this illogical self-conception explains some of the gender difference in the technological leadership identity trait.
The third and fourth columns in Table 4 present the relationships between the social and
generality-oriented self-conceptions and each of the four professional identity traits. These two
self-conceptions are gender-neutral in this sample. Those who consider themselves social have
greater adherence to the technological leadership, managerial/communication skills, and social
consciousness professional identity traits, compared with those with less social self-conceptions.
Furthermore, those with generality-oriented self-conceptions are less likely to adhere to problemsolving prowess, managerial/communication skills, and social consciousness professional identity traits. That these gender-neutral self-conceptions also predict professional identity traits
suggests that systematic variation among other dimensions besides gender may be the catalyst for
variation in professional identities as well.
To understand whether gender works through self-conceptions to influence professional identity traits, I ran a separate set of structural equation models with bootstrapping (see the appendix
for results) which replicated the models in Table 4 and added a path between gender and the selfconception measure; this allows for the identification of significant indirect effects of gender on
the professional identity traits via gendered self-conceptions. As expected, I found significant
indirect effects of gender via the two gendered self-conception measures: There is a significant
and negative indirect effect of female on problem-solving prowess through the emotional selfconception, and there is a significant and negative indirect effect of female on technological leader
through the illogical self-conception. This suggests that not only do these gendered self-conceptions (i.e., emotional, illogical) have a significant direct effect on these professional identity traits,
but that gender also acts indirectly through them to influence professional identity traits.
In summary, a varied selection of self-conceptions predicts students adoption of four professional identity traits. The two self-conceptions more likely to be held by women (emotional and
illogical) are negatively related to two highly valued professional identity traits in engineering
(problem-solving prowess and technological leadership), and significant indirect effects of gender
suggests that these gender differences in self-conceptions are translated into gender differences in
professional identities. In other words, gendered and gender-neutral self-conceptions appear to filter respondents development of these professional identities, and this filtering process helps reinforce gender differences in the adoption of at least one of these traits (technological leadership).
While the longitudinal nature of the data allows for an appropriate time-lag between selfconceptions and the professional identity traits (measured at Time 2), and self-conceptions are
generally less malleable than professional identities (Markus and Nurius 1986), it is instructive
to know whether the relationships in the reverse temporal order are weaker. Using Year 1 measures of professional identity traits, I predicted students self-conceptions, reversing the temporal
order of Table 4. In these models (not shown), there were substantially fewer significant relationshipsonly fourcompared with the eight documented in Table 4.19 This suggests that the
causal direction of the proposed filtering process, whereby self-conceptions affect the uptake of
professional identity traits, is more powerful than the reverse effect.

Possible Persistence Consequences of Gendered Professional Identities


I suggested above that professional identities may have consequences for mens and womens
careers, particularly whether they persist in the profession. To highlight the possible consequences of professional identities, I explore whether the professional identity traits predict
respondents intention to remain in engineering five years after graduation. Table 5 presents the

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Cech

structural equation models using the four professional identity traits (plus controls) to predict
respondents likelihood of persisting.
Net of controls, students whose professional identities emphasize problem-solving prowess and
technological leadership are more likely to intend to remain in engineering. As Table 2 illustrates,
mens professional identities are more likely than womens professional identities to emphasize
technological leadership, suggesting a connection between these gendered professional identity
trait and the likelihood of intending to persist in engineering long-term. However, those whose
professional identities emphasize managerial/communication skills are more likely to intend to
seek out different professional pathsperhaps ones where this trait is more highly valued.
The processes described here are messy and complex, and professional identities are filtered
through many more self-conceptions than the four included here. In addition, not all professional
identity traits were gendered. My intention was to illustrate that self-conceptions, some of which
differ by gender, influence the development of professional identity traits among neophytes. I
next discuss the implications of these findings for engineering and for the consideration of professional identities in workforce inequality more broadly.

Discussion
This paper proposed a mechanism through which professional identities may develop somewhat
differently for men and women: The professional identity traits that students try on during their
professional socialization experiences are filtered through their existing self-conceptions. Only
identity traits consistent with students existing self-conceptions are likely to become part of
students professional identities. In this way, systematic gender differences in self-conceptions
can be relayed into systematic gender variation in professional identities. My analysis examined
whether men and women engineering students self-conceptions influence the extent to which
they adopt a set of traits into their professional identities. I also explored whether these professional identity traits are related to students intentions to persist in engineering.
These results illustrate, first, that self-conceptions filter professional identity development:
Students self-conceptions predicted their likelihood of adopting all four professional identity
traits. Second, this filtering process appears to translate gender differences in self-conceptions
into gender differences in professional identity traits. Two of the four self-conceptions significantly differ by gender, and the filtering process through these self-conceptions contributes to
men and women having professional identities that emphasize somewhat different traits. Third,
not all of the professional identity traits were gendered; while gender plays an important role in
professional identity development, it is not deterministic. This invites consideration of how other
axes of difference may lead to differences in professional identities via systematic variation in
self-conceptions. Variation in self-conceptions by class or race/ethnicity, for example, may be
translated into differences in professional identities through this same mechanism.
Suggesting a broader consequence of the gendering of professional identities, three of the four
professional identity traits are related to students intentions to persist in engineering. In particular,
a professional identity trait that is stronger among men than womentechnological leadership
is positively related to intentions to persist. This trait was significantly related to gendered selfconception (illogical), and gender has a significant indirect effect on technological leader via the
illogical self-conception measure. However, those with strong commitments to managerial/communication skills are less likely to intend to persist in engineering. These results suggest the need
for further research into how gender differences in professional identity traits may translate into
differences in persistence. The dominant identity traits in engineering are likely more consistent
with self-conceptions most often held by men (e.g., logical, unemotional) than those most often
held by women. If women are less likely to adopt the exalted identity traits of engineering because
those traits are less consistent with female-typed self-conceptions (and those dominant traits are

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Sociological Perspectives 58(1)

also important determinants of persistence in engineering), women may be more likely than men
to leave engineering for a profession with dominant identity traits that are consistent with their
self-conceptions. This may help explain the enduring finding in the United States that women
persist in engineering at lower rates than men (Morgan et al. 2013). I encourage future research
with larger samples that include pre-college data to understand the effects of gendered professional identities on long-term persistence in engineering and other gender-typed professions.
Only a small subset of the traits that plausibly make up the professional identities of engineers
are examined here, and only a handful of self-conceptions are used to predict them. The primary
purpose of this paper was the description and exploration of a mechanism, not the investigation
of relationships between particular self-conceptions and particular professional identities.
Although two different question prompts and time points were used to measure the four professional identity traits, I find similar relationships between self-conceptions and professional identity traits across both, suggesting that the filtering process is robust to the wording of the question
prompt and exact year of measurement. I hope future research on larger, more representative
samples will examine these relationships more deeply.
I analyzed a mid-sized sample of respondents enrolled in a diverse range of engineering programs in the United States. The sample is not representative of all engineering students, although
it does include respondents from a broad spectrum of pedagogical approaches to engineering
education. This sample may be a hard case in which to find the hypothesized filtering process
because the professional socialization in technology-focused schools like MIT and Olin is likely
more intense than in traditional four-year institutions that educate most engineers. In addition,
the selection into MIT and Olin of men and women who likely have self-conceptions conducive
to the dominant professional identity traits in engineering should make this mechanism harder to
find in this population. I expect that the filtering process and the resultant gendering of professional identities would be even more pronounced in a more representative sample.
These processes are likely not unique to engineering. Because members of mostif not all
professions likely develop professional identities of some sort, the filtering mechanism examined
here may exist in other professions. Especially in male- and female-typed professions where the
dominant identity traits are often male- or female-typed, those dominant identity traits are likely
more consonant with the self-conceptions of men and women, respectively. In physics for example, where the dominant identity traits are generally male-typed (Ecklund, Lincoln, and Tansey
2012; Traweek 1988), womens self-conceptions are likely less consonant with those identity
traits than mens self-conceptionspossibly leading men to develop professional identities more
conducive to success and persistence in physics. The inverse pattern may be found in femaledominated professions such as nursing, where the dominant identity traits are generally femaletyped and thus more consonant with the self-conceptions of women (Kmec 2008).

Conclusion
This paper hypothesized a mechanism through which men and women develop gendered professional identities. These professional identities may not only have consequences for persistence,
as suggested by the results here, but for other important career factors as well. If individuals do
not recognize commonality between the characteristics in their professional identities and the
identity traits valued by fellow students, professors, colleagues, or bosses, they may feel isolated
or marginalized. Furthermore, to the extent that processes of hiring, promotion, and pay are contingent on whether professionals personally embraceand come to embodythe values of their
professional culture, gendered professional identities may perpetuate these demand side
dimensions of gender inequality. Finally, individuals with different professional identities might
enact their professional roles differently. There is much to be explored in how professional identities may contribute to inequality and segregation in the professional workforce.

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How might this mechanism be mitigated? The resolution of gender differences in professional
identities should not be an attempt to fix womens self-conceptions or professional identities.
After all, half of the self-conceptions and professional identity traits were gender-neutral. Instead,
professional culturesespecially the dominant identity traits emphasized thereinneed to be
reoriented to emphasize a broader spectrum of identity traits. In most professions, the dominant
identity traits emphasized by the professional culture are a select and unnecessarily narrow set of
traits compared with the skills and orientations actually required of successful work within that
profession. Professions need not craft new identity traits to emphasize, but rather recognize and
promote the full range of abilities and traits (e.g., communication skills for engineers) that success in the profession usually requires.
Changing the dominant professional identity traits within a professional culture is not as radical a reorientation as it may seem. For example, three decades ago, concern over environmental
sustainability would have been considered a marginal professional identity trait among engineers
(Cech 2014; Florman 1994). Today, however, sustainability concerns are becoming more central
to the profession (NAE 2008), and young engineers are increasingly likely to consider the promotion of environmental sustainability a core part of their identities as engineers. Although slow,
this demonstrates that changes to the dominant identity traits within a professional culture are
certainly possible.
This paper calls for further consideration of how professional culturesspecifically, the individual uptake of these cultures in professional identitiesinfluence gendered experiences outcomes in professions. Discrimination, bias, and exclusion are still entrenched in professional
education and professional workplaces, but as the cultural legitimacy of overt sexism continues
to decline, we must seek to identify less immediately obvious mechanisms that contribute to the
reproduction of gender inequality in professions.

Appendix
SEM Models Using Self-conceptions, Demographics, and Controls to Predict Four Professional Identity
Traits, with Parameter Estimates and Significance Levels for Direct and Indirect Effects of Gender on
Professional Identity Traits.

Female Selfconception
Self-conception effects
Self-conception
Problem-solving
Self-conception
Tech leadership
Self-conception
Managerial/
communication skills
Self-conception
Social consciousness

Model with
emotional selfconception

Model with
illogical selfconception

Model with
social selfconception

Model with
generality-oriented
self-conception

Unstandardized
coefficient

Unstandardized
coefficient

Unstandardized
coefficient

Unstandardized
coefficient

.455**

.213**

.035

.138

.003

.030**

.052**

.011

.025

.042

.056

.030

.025

.007

.057**

.007

.017

.001

.080***

.038*
(continued)

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Sociological Perspectives 58(1)

Appendix (continued)

Model with
emotional selfconception

Model with
illogical selfconception

Model with
social selfconception

Model with
generality-oriented
self-conception

Unstandardized
coefficient

Unstandardized
coefficient

Unstandardized
coefficient

Unstandardized
coefficient

Direct effects of gender on professional identity traits


Female Problem.008
.014
.018
solving
Female Tech
.406**
.200**
.393**
leadership
Female Managerial/
.025
.013
.027
communication skill
Female Social
.145*
.153*
.155**
consciousness
Indirect effects of gender on professional identity traits (via self-conception measure)
Female Problem.024**
.002
.000
solving
Female Tech
.011
.009*
.002
leadership
.003
.001
.002
Female Managerial/
communication skills
Female Social
.008
.000
.003
consciousness
2(df)
531.4 (243)
526.5 (243)
510.4 (243)
RMSEA
.862
.863
.871
CFI
.062
.061
.059

.013
.388**
.027
.161*

.004
.004
.001
.005
558.7 (243)
.850
.065

Note. Models in this table replicate models in Table 4 and add a regression path between gender and the selfconception measure in each model. Bootstrapping methods were used to produce bias-corrected indirect
effects, standard errors, and p values. SEM = structural equation modeling; RMSEA = root mean square error of
approximation; CFI = comparative fit index.
p<.10. *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001, two-tailed test.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests


The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or
publication of this article.

Funding
Data collection funded by the National Science Foundation (grants 0240817, 0241337, 0609628, and
0503351; PIs: Carroll Seron and Susan Silbey). Work on this paper was supported by a National Science
Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant (#1029668). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of
the National Science Foundation.

Notes
1. There is a multitude of constraints that influences professional identities and womens experiences
in professions more broadly. While this paper focuses on individual-level processes of professional
identity development, such development is simultaneously influenced by other factors at the structural
and interactional levels.

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2. Self-conceptions likely vary systematically along other socio-demographic dimensions, such as race/
ethnicity, class, or nationality. Although it is beyond the scope of this paper to examine the effects of
variation in self-conceptions along these lines on professional identity development, such variation
may translate into differences in professional identity traits as a result of the same filtering process
described here.
3. Both Deneen M. Hatmaker (2012, 2013) and Heather Dryburgh (1999) discuss what they term professional identity among engineering practitioners and students, but their conceptualizations are closer to
notions of identity negotiation and professional persona, respectively, that relate to students negotiation of how others see them as professionals, than to the conceptualization used in the professional
identity literatures cited here. Jane Jorgenson (2002) also examines women engineers professional
identities, but is more concerned with how they make sense of their minority status than the gendering
of their professional identities per se.
4. Recent literature has shown that professional identity development is also influenced by students
networks (Sweitzer 2009), role models (Gibson 2003; Ibarra 1999), and the tasks students engage in
during the course of learning (Pratt, Rockmann, and Kaufmann 2006).
5. Professional identities are related to, but distinct from, professional personas (Ibarra 1999) or professional images (Roberts 2005), which are ways in which people desire others to view them as
professionals. I limit my discussion here to peoples own professional identities, rather than their negotiation of how others see them as professionals.
6. This does not necessarily mean that professional identities (or self-conceptions) are consistent within
individuals; people often tolerate contradictions and ironies in their self-beliefs (Jorgenson 2002).
7. The extent to which it is acceptable to tolerate dissonance between ones self-conceptions and the
professional identity traits one is being socialized into is, itself, culturally contingent. In post-industrial
nations like the United States, there seems comparatively less cultural tolerance for such dissonance,
and the legitimacy of shirking the dominant identity traits that one is being socialized into is reinforced
by the expectation that people choose self-expressive careers (Cech 2013b). In other cultural contexts
where career decisions are made with more instrumental considerations (Charles and Bradley 2009),
the consistency of ones self-conceptions with the identity traits dominant in ones profession may be
less important.
8. The self-conception measures of the students in this sample shifted, on average, by less than half a
point on a seven-point scale (less than a 7% shift) between their sophomore and senior year.
9. Professional identities provide the cultural link between individuals self-beliefs and the activities that
make up their paid employment and thus likely underlie a broader sense of career-fit confidence shown
to be important for persistence (Cech et al. 2011).
10. Related, the personoccupation fit literature (e.g., Caston and Braito 1985; Miner, Crane, and
Vandenberg 1994) would suggest a connection between self-conceptions and the way that professionals react to the objective and subjective characteristics of their occupations and organizations.
However, I am more concerned with the professional identity traits that manifest from professional
cultures than the characteristics of individuals day to day work.
11. Specifically, the problem-solving prowess identity trait aligns with Hatmakers (2012:12730) techno
role, the technological leadership trait with the administrator role, the managerial/communication
skills trait with the communicator and relator roles, and the social consciousness trait with the
caretaker role.
12. The entire freshman classes at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Franklin W. Olin College
of Engineering (Olin), and Smith, along with a random selection of University of Massachusetts
Amherst (UMass) freshmen, were invited via letter to participate, with an overall response rate of
35.8%. To ensure there was no systematic response bias in the initial response rate (see Blair-Loy and
Wharton 2002; Winship et al. 1992), I compared the sample with the 2003 population data at each
school. While the sample marginally over-represents Asian students at MIT (p = .08) and marginally
under-represents African American students at UMass (p = .09), no other gender or race/ethnicity differences were found. While students pursuing all majors were invited to participate in the initial survey, only students entering college intending to earn a degree in engineering are included in the present
analysis. The retention rates for this engineering student sub-population were 65% to 73%, depending
on the survey wave.

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13. Specifically, I compared the 2 and degrees of freedom from a model where the four latent measures
are separate and correlated with one another, to those from a second model where all four latent measures predict a single, second-order latent measure. The significance of the difference in the 2 and
degrees of freedom between the two models indicates discriminant validity. I also ensured that none of
the manifest measures were more highly correlated with a measure outside of its latent group than it is
correlated with the measures inside its latent group.
14. While managerial work is characterized as a masculine activity in other realms of the labor force
(Dinovitzer, Reichman, and Sterling 2009), managerial work is identified in engineering as social and
thus within the purview of womens assumed expressiveness and communication skills (Cech 2013a;
Faulkner 2000).
15. It is important to note that the aspects of the profession that are culturally most valued and the aspects
that actually make up the day-to-day tasks of professionals can be quite different. For example, most
engineers require management and communication skills to complete their work, even though these
tasks are not highly valued.
16. Individuals hold many thousands of self-conceptions, and, if data allowed, I could have replaced the
four I use here with any number of other gendered or gender-neutral self-conception measures (e.g.,
compassionate, argumentative). I am interested in identifying the mechanism by which self-conceptions lead to professional identities, rather than in theorizing why particular self-conceptions affect
particular professional identity traits.
17. Several additional controls that previous literature (e.g., Cech et al. 2011; Ma 2009) suggests may be
important, including whether respondent was born in the United States, fathers education, mothers
education, family income, and plans for a traditional family (marriage and children), were included in
prior models; none were significant. Given the importance of parsimony in structural equation modeling (SEM), these insignificant controls were removed from the final models.
18. Due to monotone missingness from skipped survey waves, over half of the sample size would have
been lost using listwise deletion. Listwise deletion in panel data can also yield biased estimates and
inflate standard errors (Allison 2001). I replicated the analyses here using listwise deleted data and
found consistent outcomes.
19. Specifically, the four significant relationships in the reversed temporal order (net of controls) are as
follows: Year 1 problem-solving process was significant and negatively related to emotional and illogical self-conceptions (unstandardized coefficients: B = .809 and .286, respectively); Year 1 managerial/communication skills measure was positively related to the emotional self-conception (B = 1.105),
and Year 1 social consciousness measure was positively related to the social self-conception (B =
1.007).

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Author Biography
Erin Cech is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Rice University and earned a Ph.D.
in Sociology from UC San Diego and BS degrees in Electrical Engineering and Sociology from Montana
State University. Cechs research seeks to uncover cultural mechanisms of inequality reproduction - particularly gender, sexual identity, and racial/ethnic inequality in STEM; the self-expressive edge of sex
segregation; and cultural logics in popular explanations of inequality. Her research appears in the American
Journal of Sociology, American Sociological Review, Social Forces, and Social Problems.

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586969

research-article2015

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Sociological Perspectives
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Cech, Erin. 2015. Engineers and Engineeresses? Self-conceptions and the Development of Gendered
Professional Identities. Sociological Persectives 58(1):5677. (DOI: 10.1177/0731121414556543)
In the March 2015 issue of Sociological Perspectives, the labels RMSEA and CFI should
be swapped in Tables 3-5 and in the Appendix. See below for corrected information:
Table 3
CFI
.900.971.978.978
RMSEA .072.052.039.043
Table 4
CFI
.878.875.879.877
RMSEA .051.050.050.050
Table 5
CFI
.902
RMSEA .045
Appendix
CFI
.862.863.871.850
RMSEA .062.061.059.065