Negotiating gendered identities through the process of identity construction

Olivia Kyriakidou (Department of Business Administration, Athens University of Economics and Business, Athens, Greece)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Publication date: 30 December 2011



The purpose of this paper is to build and enrich theory around professional identity construction by investigating the development of professional identity under conditions of marginalized gender identity. Professional identity is defined by Ibarra and by Schein as one ' s professional self-concept based on attributes, beliefs, values, motives, and experiences. Professional identity construction under conditions of marginalization presents an interesting puzzle. Professional roles are defined as prestigious and provide the role holder with autonomy and, often, a degree of privilege. However, minority professionals are often accorded little prestige and/or privilege because their identities are perceived as inferior.


The research studies narratives by 33 prominent women engineers with careers in management who discuss what it means to be both women and engineers holding high management positions in their organizations.


The research demonstrates that the process of identity construction for women engineers differs in significant ways from that of their male counterparts. The process is centered in redefinition that allows women professionals to construct possible selves and establish positive professional identities: redefinition of occupational rhetorics, disadvantage, and the self.

Research limitations/implications

This study of professional identity construction under conditions of disadvantaged gender identity contributes a new perspective for theorists researching professional identity construction. The results reveal that the development of professional identity for minority women may involve the processes and tasks of redefinition. The tasks in redefinition include redefining disadvantage, redefining the profession, and redefining the self. Moreover, the use of narrative calls for organizational researchers to consider theories in sociology, history, policy, and psychology in the attempts to answer careers questions.

Practical implications

The implications of this research are significant for human resource management practices in the construction and engineering field.


While there is growing interest in professional identity construction (e.g. Clarke et al.), little is known about how marginalization may influence the development of professional identity of minority professionals, such as women managers in engineering.



Kyriakidou, O. (2011), "Negotiating gendered identities through the process of identity construction", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 31 No. 1, pp. 27-42.

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