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Exploring internal segregation in the South African medical profession

Angelique Wildschut (Human Sciences Research Council, Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa)

Journal of Workplace Learning

ISSN: 1366-5626

Article publication date: 23 February 2010




The purpose of this paper is to explore the motivations underlying the specialisation choices of six female specialist doctors working in Cape Town, South Africa and to investigate whether the specific gender work identity associated with that specialism resulted in their motivation to enter it.


The research methodology comprised conducting semi‐structured interviews, where female medical doctors were asked to provide an account of their general experiences as medical doctors in a male‐dominated profession, as well as a more specific question related to their choice of specialisation.


These female medical specialists entered these so‐called soft specialisms mainly for three reasons: so‐called female‐friendly characteristics; exposure to, not necessarily fuelled by interest in, certain specialisms; and so‐called male characteristics.


The importance of such research is threefold as it has practical, social, and economic implications. The practical implications are evident in that a better understanding of the perceived gendered work identities has the potential to impact better retention and recruitment. The social implication is also important, as unchallenged gendered trends serve to perpetuate gender unequal outcomes in the wider society, which can be constraining or discriminatory. Lastly, an aspect which is not always considered is the fact that gender inequality is economically inefficient. The scientific value is found in the space it provides for reconsidering the relevance of the use of the terms “soft and hard” specialisms to explain the drivers of internal segregation in the medical profession.



Wildschut, A. (2010), "Exploring internal segregation in the South African medical profession", Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. 22 No. 1/2, pp. 53-66.



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