‘Allowed into a Man's World’ Meanings of Work–Life Balance: Perspectives of Women Civil Engineers as ‘Minority’ Workers in Construction


*Open University, Faculty of Health and Social Care, 1-11 Hawley Crescent, Camden Town, London, NW1 8NP, e-mail: J.H.Watts@open.ac.uk


This article discusses how women working as civil engineers within the UK construction industry perceive work–life balance and considers strategies they use to achieve this. The findings are presented of a qualitative research project that explored the experiences of women in this role, focusing on the subcultural context of a profession that is dominated by the values of presenteeism and infinite availability. A feminist post-structuralist framework is used to analyse how women negotiate their personal and professional time and the extent to which their other roles as carers and nurturers unsettle male work practices in this highly gendered profession. There are gradually increasing numbers of women in professional construction roles and their success appears to depend on being able to fit in to the dominant masculine culture of long working hours and the male pub gathering. Despite an increased presence, women's minority status in construction continues to challenge their professional identity and this is central to the conflict many face between the dual roles of corporate worker and private non-work person.