Wiki Pages > Women as Technical Professional Communicators

According to Kynell and Tebeaux (2009), In 1973, Nell Ann Pickett and Ann Laster, both technical writing professors at Hinds Junior College in Raymond, Mississippi, decided to attend a meeting of the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing at the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) in New Orleans, Louisiana. Upon entering the conference, the two women found that they were the only women in attendance. In fact, one of the male conference attendees even asked the women if they were lost. It seemed as though the fact that they were there was completely unexpected and perplexing (p.116).

Granted, this conference was in the year 1973, but in many work places, the notion of being surprised at seeing women in the room is not uncommon. Kynell and Tebeaux (2009) said that of the men at the conference, most came from “technical schools, land-grant universities, and the Air Force Academy—all institutions that supported science, engineering, and military-based technical writing,” (p. 116). Science, engineering, and the military are all arguably male-dominated fields. Those writing about such fields would presumably also be male.

In the end, the two women were accepted at the conference, and ultimately had a huge impact, but the tension of their arrival at the beginning is something not to be forgotten. As many strides have been taken since that fateful day in 1920, institutions today still come under fire for gender inequality and discrimination—whether intentional or not.

Smith and Thompson of Auburn University (2002) studied 1,073 full-length articles from five journals on technical communication, printed between 1989 and 1997. They used content analysis to study these journals and determine the relevance of women’s contribution to technical communication, and any existing gender inequalities in the field. From their research, Smith and Thompson (2002) determined that “the journals publishing the most articles about women and feminism are currently edited by women” (p.163). However, that does not necessarily mean that male editors are less likely to publish these articles than their female counterparts.

From their research, Smith and Thompson (2002) determined that these articles have three goals in common:

Eliminating sexist language and providing equal opportunity in the workplace: Smith and Thompson (2002) say that the authors of these articles were dedicated to creating an equal opportunity for men and women in the field of technical communication. Rather than actually redefining the workplace, they hoped to help women enter it (p. 167).

Valuing gender differences: This is an in depth element of Smith and Thompson's (2002) research. They wrote that the majority of the articles they reviewed cited authors who wanted to recognize and celebrate the differences between men and women in the field of technical communication. Many of these authors recognized that women have very specific talents and the workplace should change to account for these differences. In an article from 1989 called “Interpersonal Conflict in Collaborative Writing,” the author, Mary Lay provided excerpts of research about gender differences from journals kept by 40 of her technical communication students. Thompson and Smith (2002) wrote that from this research, Lay set the goal “to eliminate gender-based differences through instruction in ‘androgynous communication skills.” This perspective suggests that while there are innate gender differences, they can be eliminated in the workplace through uniform education (p. 167).

Recovering women’s historical contributions to technical communication: Smith and Thompson (2002) say that authors who wrote about this research suggest that there have been considerable contributions from women in the field of technical communication. These authors argue that these contributions should be recognized for their relevance (Thompson 168). Similarly, “Critique of Representations of Women and Representations That Exclude Women” criticize those who exclusively consider male-defined texts. However, according to Thompson, these authors have a different agenda. “Instead of a primary concern with recovering women’s contributions and arguing for the inclusion of those contributions in the canon of texts that to some extent define our discipline, there were more interested in laying bare ideological assumption about women (Thompson 168).” This school of thought maintains that the difference between men and women is that they belong in different workplaces. Their perspectives are both relevant, but they should not be considered in an equal sphere (p. 169). 

References:

Kynell, T., & Tebeaux, E. (2009, March 31). The Association of Teachers of Technical Writing: The Emergence of Professional Identity. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10572250802688000

Smith, O., Elizabeth, Thompson, Isabelle (2002, Oct 1). Journal of Business and Technical Communication: Feminist Theory in Technical Communication. Retrieved from http://jbt.sagepub.com/content/16/4/441.