Gender and sexuality in non-traditionally female work: an intersectional analysis of the experience of women in different occupational groups in the UK construction and transport industries
Intersectionality is a much-debated concept within gender and race studies, but there are few empirical studies that operationalise the concept in examining work organisations and occupational careers. This thesis applies an intersectional analysis to a study of the UK construction and transport sectors exploring how gender, sexuality and occupational class shape women’s work experiences. Sexuality is one of the least explored intersections, in particular its interaction with class; additionally the thesis addresses gaps in research evidence concerning the experience of women in non-professional occupations in construction and transport. In seeking to avoid prioritising either structure or agency, the research employs a multilevel framework (Layder, 1993) that addresses several dimensions of women’s experience of male-dominated work: the current policy context; women’s choices and identifications in relation to traditionally male occupations; gendered, sexualised and classed workplace interactions; participation in separate support networks and trade union structures; and the interaction of domestic circumstances with work participation. The multi-strategy qualitative methodology includes 50 interviews with key experts and heterosexual and lesbian women working in professional/managerial and nonprofessional occupations in the construction and transport sectors, plus two focus groups with women workers in construction and observation of events to raise awareness of non-traditional work. This intersectional approach permits consideration of both advantage and disadvantage and questions cumulative conceptions that presume, for example, that gender and sexuality compound to disadvantage lesbians at work. The contribution of this thesis is to reveal the circumstances in which sexuality, occupational class or gender is most salient in shaping work identity or experience, together with the ways they interact. Thus sexualised workplace interactions could at times be avoided by open lesbians, but all women were at risk of sexual or homophobic harassment, although it was more prevalent in the workplaces of non-professional women. Interviewees also highlighted benefits of male-dominated occupations, including increased gendered self-confidence from doing ‘men’s work’, and material pay advantages, particularly for nonprofessionals, which in some cases produced a shift in the domestic division of labour within households.
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