Date of Award


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Rhetoric and Technical Communication (MS)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Humanities


M. Ann Brady


This research explores the extant literature on socio-cultural and institutional structures in STEM which accounts for women’s under-representation in these fields. It questions eight women in STEM’s awareness of these structures via interview sessions, and examines how they ‘negotiate’ their identities to thrive in ‘male-dominated’ fields. Participants’ awareness and shared experiences of these structures reflects an evolving society still ingrained in gender stereotypes that work to the detriment of women in STEM. In order to make meaning out this data, I apply standpoint theory to get into these women’s lives and explore the testable conclusions of traditional assumptions related to women in STEM. I close the gap between theory and empirical research by using grounded theory patterns of coding, categorizing and grouping of participant’s responses to analyze the research situation. Major insights to this research lean on the importance of my interview participants’ personal narratives (story-telling), out of which emerged the ‘fifth- wheel’ and ‘headwind’ metaphors. I present these metaphors as better alternatives to the ‘leakypipeline metaphor’ and contend that they offer new ways of thinking about how women in STEM 'negotiate’ STEM structures and to what extent they are able to do so. It ‘liberates knowledge’ on how their successes can be maintained and how their challenges can be understood better.