Original Research

The experience of women in male-dominated occupations: A constructivist grounded theory inquiry

Phiona Martin, Antoni Barnard
SA Journal of Industrial Psychology | Vol 39, No 2 | a1099 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v39i2.1099 | © 2013 Phiona Martin, Antoni Barnard | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 25 February 2013 | Published: 28 June 2013

About the author(s)

Phiona Martin, Department of Industrial and Organisational Psychology, University of South Africa, South Africa
Antoni Barnard, Department of Industrial and Organisational Psychology, University of South Africa, South Africa


Orientation: Women in male-dominated occupations face unique challenges and use distinct coping strategies affecting their motivation and retention in these occupations.

Research purpose: The purpose was to explore the experiences of women working in maledominated occupations to clarify the challenges they face and identify coping strategies that enable them to continue on their career paths.

Motivation for the study: Many women who choose male-dominated careers soon change in favour of more female-dominated or gender-balanced career paths. An understanding of women’s experiences may facilitate strategies geared towards their motivation and retention in male-dominated occupations.

Research design, approach and method: The authors conducted this exploratory qualitative study from a constructivist grounded theory perspective. They used a purposive sample of five women and conducted in-depth unstructured interviews. They analysed data using a constructivist grounded theory methodology.

Main findings: The authors found that formal and covert organisational practices, which upheld gender discrimination and bias, were the main challenges that women face. These practices included the inadequate accommodation of women’s unique physical, identity and work-life balance needs. Elements of women’s resilience included the use of femininity, adopting male characteristics, mentorship and intrinsic motivational factors.

Practical/managerial implications: The findings may guide organisations to develop and implement policies, strategies and initiatives geared towards attracting, integrating, retaining, supporting and motivating women who are, or wish to be, employed in historically maledominated occupations.

Contribution/value-add: This study contributes to an evolving body of knowledge aimed at understanding how to integrate and retain women in male-dominated occupations better.


qualitative research; constructivist grounded theory; male-dominated occupation; gender transformation; gender equity; resilience


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