The Treatment of Gender and Feminism in the Technical Writing Workplace

The following post has been prepared by guest blogger, Elizabethtown College student Sarah Olson.


In recent years, there has been an increase in women in professional fields such as business and engineering. While one might believe this would lead to unbiased portrayals and focuses in documents, researchers White, Rumsey, and Amidon conducted a content analysis on multiple journals and textbooks to determine the inclusion of women within these documents.


White, Rumsey, and Amidon found that “based on [their] analysis, the professional, published discourse within the field of business and technical writing studies maintains an implicit message that workplaces and classrooms are gender neutral” (30). However, they also determined that this “neutral” message does not cater to the average adult, but rather focuses mainly on men and male experiences. This was shown by a lack of discussion of female-specific experiences, such as the hardships of entering a male-dominated workplace; and also through a focus on male experiences, such as technical writing textbooks’ discussions of professional dress codes where women were almost added as an afterthought. For example, in one textbook, by DiSanza and Legge, both men and women are told how to dress, but only men receive an explanation why they should do so.


Based on a content analysis, the researchers found that while the number of articles written between 1989-1997 and the number of articles written between 1998-2004 was approximately the same, the number of articles written about women declined over time.


Additionally, the researchers found that the rise in women in fields such as business and engineering has not fixed the struggles women face entering these fields; this is true not only in the workplace, but also the classroom.


White, Rumsey, and Amidon recommend the following actions, based on “Toward a Feminist Rhetoric of Technology” by Amy Koerber, moving forward:


  • Creating “a newer, more inclusive definition of technology” (52)
  • “Asking research questions which explore technological issues that actually matter to women” (52)
  • Moving “away from a rhetoric of technology built around the needs and interests of men” (52)


Kate White, Suzanne Kesler Rumsey, and Stevens Amidon. “Are We ‘There’ Yet? The Treatment of Gender and Feminism in Technical, Business, and Workplace Writing Studies” Journal of Technical Writing and Communication 46.1 2016.

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