Gender in engineering is a long-standing source of inquiry, research, outreach, and discussion as inequity in demographics and negative experiences persist in the field. Women consist of just approximately 20% of our engineering undergraduate programs nationally, and roughly 14% of our national professional workforce. Absent from these numbers and research into gender minority experiences are students who lay further on the margins of discussion, awareness, inclusion, and acknowledgement of existence - students who identify as nonbinary or other genders aside from man or woman. This paper presents background literature on gender, gender minority experiences in higher education, nonbinary gender identity, and aims to present points of discussion to facilitate further engagement with a more nuanced understanding of gender in engineering.
Gender as a social system is defined by multiplicity and fluidity and does not fit within two unitary and discrete categories. The majority of current gender in engineering scholarship utilizes a conceptualization of gender which does not acknowledge or incorporate more than two gender options, and is rooted in increasingly rejected notions of biological essentialism. Nonbinary and gender nonconforming students, some of which also identify within the transgender population, exist in liminal spaces throughout society and higher education, and continuation of this scholarship tacitly denies their existence by framing gender as intrinsically linked to two biological categories. Engineering professionals, faculty, and students who identify as neither men nor women must be included and our conversation be expanded for academically rigorous investigation into gender dynamics and create inclusive engineering spaces.
Conversations around gender neutral bathrooms are just the beginnings of widespread cultural change to support gender expansive engineers. The discipline must re-think our approaches towards gender equity in engineering and the theoretical conceptualization of gender to not only frame its inequity through the sharp underrepresentation of women, but its gender dynamics as experienced by nonbinary and gender nonconforming students. We must continue to make space for marginalized gender identities and gendered experiences. Through reviewing existing literature and integrating my own intimate experiences I seek to discuss preliminary efforts towards nonbinary inclusion in our teaching, professionalization, and language. This paper represents a point of entry for discussing nonbinary inclusion as part of the discipline's continued commitment to cultural change surrounding gender.
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