"I Find that What I Do Is at Total Odds..." Holistic Wellness in a Woman Leader Working in a Male- dominated Engineering Profession


  • Claude Helene Mayer Rhodes University, South Africa




holistic wellness model, woman, male-dominated profession, Engineering, Australia, Dilthey's modern hermeneutics


To explore holistic wellness in depth, single, longitudinal case studies are needed. This article explores the holistic wellness of a woman leader in the male-dominated profession of Engineering, based on the holistic wellness model (HWM). The article focuses on the question of how holistic wellness is constructed by this outstanding individual working in the challenging Australian Engineering field.

The study is grounded in Dilthey's modern hermeneutics and applies a single case study design using an in-depth interview, conversations on a regular basis and observation over a period of 18 months.

Findings show that the woman leader, working in the male-dominated global Australian global Engineering profession, builds and bases her holistic wellness on life tasks (work and leisure, self-direction, spirituality, friendship and love) and life forces (family, religion, community and business and industry) which are part of the holistic wellness model. Life tasks and life forces support her as she tackles challenges in life, and provide her with the coping mechanisms she needs as a woman leader in Engineering.


Download data is not yet available.


Bagilhoe, B and White, K 2011, Gender, power and management: A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Higher Education, Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Bryman, A, Stephens, M and Campo, C, 1996, 'The importance of context: Qualitative research and the study of leadership', Leadership Quarterly, vol. 7(3): 353–370.

Carli, LL, and Eagly, AH, 1999, 'Gender effects on influence and emergent leadership', in G.N. Powell (ed.), Handbook of gender and work,Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 203-222..

Coetzee, S and Viviers, R, 2007. An overview of research on positive psychology in South Africa. South African Journal of Psychology, vol. 37(3), pp. 470-490.

Cohen, J, 2006, 'Social, emotional, ethical, and academic education: creating a climate for learning, participation in democracy, and well-being', Harvard educational review, vol. 76(2), pp. 201-237.

Dilthey, W, 2002, The formation of the historical world in the human sciences, Wilhelm Dilthey selected works, Volume III, Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Du Plessis, Y and Barkhuizen, N, 2012, Career path barriers experienced by women engineers. Paper presented at the 12th European Academy of Management Conference, Rotterdam, Netherlands. Retrieved from http://www.optentia.co.za/publications.php

Eagly, AH, 2007, Female leadership advantage and disadvantage: resolving the contradictions. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31, pp. 1-12.

Fernandez, E. (2004). 'Effective interventions to promote child and family wellness: a study of outcomes of intervention through Children's family centers', Child & family social work, vol. 9(1), pp. 91-104.

Gouws, A, 2008, 'Obstacles for women in leadership positions: A case of South Africa', SIGNS: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 34(1), pp. 21–27. doi: org/10.1086/588486

Kinnear, L, 2014, 'A critical analysis of the emerging models of power amongst South African women business leaders', Unpublished doctoral thesis, University of KwaZulu Natal, Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa.

Kohlbacher, F, 2006, 'The use of qualitative content analysis in case study research', Forum: Qualitative social research, vol. 7(1), Retrieved from: http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/75/153#g52

Lock, A and Strong, T, 2010, Social Constructionism. Sources and Stirrings in Theory and Practice, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

McLeod, J, 2003, An introduction to counseling, Open University Press, Philadelphia.

Martin, P and Barnard, A, 2013, 'The experience of women in male-dominated occupations: A constructivist grounded theory inquiry', South African Journal of Industrial Psychology, 39(2). doi:org/10.4102/sajip. v39i2.1099

Mayer, C-H, 2011, The sense of coherence in transcultural management, Waxmann, Münster.

Mayer, C-H and Boness, C, 2011, ‘Concepts of health and well-being in managers: An organizational study’, International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being, vol. 6, doi:10.3402/qhw.v6i4.7143.

Mayer, C-H and Krause, C, 2013, 'Salutogenese in Beratung und Psychotherapie', in C-H. Mayer, C Krause (eds.), Praxis Klinische Verhaltensmedizin und Rehabilitation, vol. 26(2), pp. 91-178.

Mayer, C-H and Viviers, A, 2014b, '"I still believe..." Reconstructing spirituality, culture and mental health across cultural divides', C-H Mayer and D Geldenhuys (eds.), Spirituality, culture and health in management. Special Issue International Review of Psychiatry, vol. 26(3), pp. 265-278.

Mayer, C-H, Surtee, S and May, M, 2015, 'The meaning of work for women across cultures. Insights into women working in higher education institutions', South African Journal of Higher Education, in press.

Mayring, P, 2000b, 'Qualitative Inhaltsanalyse', in U. Flick, E. von

Kardorff and I. Steinke (eds.), Qualitative Forschung, Ein Handbuch, Rowohlt, Reinbeck bei Hamburg, pp.468-475.

Mruck, K and Breuer, F, 2003, 'Subjectivity and reflexivity in qualitative research - The FQS issues', Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 4(2), http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/696/1504

Myers, JE, 2009, 'Wellness through social interest: The goal of helping', in TJ Sweeney (ed.) Adlerian counselling and psychotherapy: A practitioner’s approach, (5th ed), Routledge. New York, NY, pp. 33-44.

Myers, JE and Sweeney, TJ, 2007, 'Wellness in counseling: an overview. Professional Counseling Digest', ACAPCD-09, American Counseling Association, Alexandria, VA.

Myers, JE and Sweeney, TJ, 2008, 'Wellness counseling: The evidence base for practice', Journal of Counseling and Development, vol. 86(4), pp. 482 – 493. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2008.tb00536.x

Myers, JE, Sweeney, TJ and Witmer JM, 2000, 'The wheel of wellness counselling for wellness: A holistic model for treatment planning', Journal of Counseling and Development, vol. 78(3), pp. 251 – 266. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.2000.tb01906.x

Ricoeur, P, 1981a, Paul Ricoeur, hermeneutics and the human sciences: Essays on language, action and interpretation, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Roscoe, LJ, 2009, 'Wellness: A review of theory and measurement for counselors', Journal of Counseling and Development, vol. 87(2), pp. 216 – 226. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2009.tb00570.x

Rudman, LA and Phelan, JE, 2010, 'The effect of priming gender roles on women’s implicit gender beliefs and career aspirations', Social Psychology, vol. 41(3), pp. 192–202. doi: 10.1027/1864-9335/a000027

Sandberg, S 2013, Lean in: Women, work and the will to lead, Random House, Lean In Foundation, NY.

Sharp, R, Franzway, S, Mills, J and Gill, J, 2012, 'Flawed policy, failed politics? Challenging the sexual politics of managing diversity in Engineering Organizations', Gender, work & organization, vol. 19(6), pp. 555-572.

Shotter, J, 1981, 'Vico, moral worlds, accountability and personhood', in PLF Heelas and AJ Lock (eds.), Indigenous Psychologies: The Anthropology of the Self, Academic, Press, London, pp. 265-284.

Strümpfer, DJW, 2005, 'Standing on the shoulders of giants: notes on early positive psychology (psychofortology)', South African Journal of Psychology, vol. 35, pp. 21-35.

Sweeney, TJ, 1998, Adlerian Counseling: A practitioner's approach, Taylor and Francis, New York.

Sweeney, TJ and Witmer, JM, 1991, 'Beyond social interest: Striving toward optimum health and wellness', Individual Psychology, vol. 47(4), pp. 527 – 540.

Temane, QM and Wissing, MP, 2006, 'The role of spirituality as a mediator for psychological wellbeing across different contexts', South African Journal of Psychology, vol. 36(3), pp. 582–597.

Toh, SM and Leonardelli, GJ, 2012, 'Cultural constraints on the emergence of women as leaders', Journal of World Business, vol. 47(4), pp. 604–611.

Terre Blanche, M, Durrheim, K and Kelly, K, 2006, 'First steps in qualitative data analysis', in M Terre Blanche, K Durrheim and D. Painter (eds.), Research in practice. Applied methods for the social sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, pp.321-344.

Van Kaam, A, 1966, Existential Foundations of Psychology, University

Press of America, New York.

Van Wyk, M, 2012, 'Women leaders, personal leadership and challenges', Unpublished master’s dissertation, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg.

Wang, X, 2012, The construction of researcher-researched relationships in school ethnography: doing research, participating in the field and reflecting on ethical dilemmas, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, vol. 26(7), pp. 763-779.

WHO, 2002, The world health report 2002. Reducing risks, promoting healthy life, World Health Organisation, Geneva, Switzerland.

Witmer, JM and Sweeney, TJ, 1992, 'A holistic model for wellness and prevention over the life span', Journal of Counseling and Development ,vol. 71(2), pp. 140 –148. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.1992.tb02189.x

Witmer, JM, Sweeney, TJ and Myers, JE, 1998, The wheel of wellness, Author, Greensboro, NC.

Yin, RK, 2009, Case study research. Design and Methods. Fourth edition, Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA.




How to Cite

Mayer, C. H. (2016). "I Find that What I Do Is at Total Odds." Holistic Wellness in a Woman Leader Working in a Male- dominated Engineering Profession. Multidisciplinary Journal of Gender Studies, 5(3), 1098–1125. https://doi.org/10.17583/generos.2016.1806