ADVANCE-Purdue and the Center for Faculty Success A Department within the Division of Diversity and Inclusion


Gendered Facets of Faculty Careers and Challenges to Engineering Education

January 11, 2013





Gendered Facets of Faculty Careers and Challenges to 

Engineering Education as an Inclusive Profession 

Kacey Beddoesa, Alice L. Pawleya, and Dina Banerjee

Purdue Universitya, Shippensburg University

Corresponding Author Email:  



Women faculty remain underrepresented in many science, technology, engineering, and mathematics 

(STEM) fields in both Australia and the United States. Given the current interest in developing 

engineering education as a profession in its own right, it is necessary for engineering educators to 

examine and understand the experiences and working conditions of engineering faculty members. 

Otherwise, professionalization efforts risk ignoring and perpetuating gendered facets of faculty 

careers. Furthermore, those gendered facets of faculty careers stand as potential barriers to the 

successful promotion of engineering educator identities. Better understandings of the experiences of 

female faculty are necessary because gender biases of faculty careers often go unnoticed or unvoiced 

and therefore remain unproblematized as neutral features of academia.  


The purpose of this study was to identify factors contributing to the low numbers of female faculty 

members in engineering (and related) fields, identify gendered facets of faculty careers, and highlight 

bodies of literature that are pertinent (based on our data) to engineering education.  


Forty-four semi-structured interviews averaging 90 minutes in length were conducted with female and 

male faculty members in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) departments at 

a large public research university in the United States. Participants were asked about many different 

facets of their experiences as STEM faculty members. Transcript data were analysed using a 

grounded theory approach to identify gender-related themes that shape faculty careers.   


Three themes emerged as gendered influences on faculty careers. They were: socialization, gender 

roles and unconscious bias, and work-family balance. Each theme reveals ways in which academic 

institutional (and broader social) norms generally work to the advantage of male faculty and the 

disadvantage of female faculty. 


There are a variety of ways in which engineering faculty careers are gendered, and literature from 

relevant fields such as higher education and social psychology should be brought to bear on our 

understandings of those gendered facets. Gender inequalities, such as those we identify, should be 

understood as challenges for the engineering education community to address as it aspires to become 

a more equitable profession, and we also offer these themes as important research horizons for 

engineering education researchers.  


Gender, faculty members, institutional culture  


Proceedings of the 2012 AAEE Conference, Melbourne, Victoria, Copyright © Beddoes, Pawley, & Banerjee, 2012 



Despite decades of effort, time, and money invested to recruit and retain women faculty, they 

remain underrepresented in many science, technology, engineering, and mathematics 

(STEM) fields in both Australia and the United States (Mills, 2011; National Science 

Foundation, 2011). They are denied tenure at higher rates than men, and they leave faculty 

positions more often than men (AFT Higher Education, 2011; Ceci, Williams, & Barnett, 

2009; Committee on Maximizing the Potential of Women in Academic Science and 

Engineering, 2006; Hill, Corbett, & St. Rose, 2010). In the field of Higher Education, this 

phenomenon has been studied through various lenses, including human capital, culture and 

privilege, and institutional organization (Marschke, Laursen, Nielsen, & Dunn-Rankin, 2007). 

However, most engineering education scholarship on women and gender tends to focus on 

female students or engineering professionals in non-academic contexts, while faculty are 

overlooked. Nonetheless, there are important reasons for examining gendered facets of 

faculty careers, particularly as engineering education focuses on professionalization efforts. 

As Tierney & Bensimon (1996) assert, gender-blindness does not in fact lead to equality, and 

further analyses of gender in the academy are needed: “The eradication of overt and covert 

discrimination against women requires critical and gender-based appraisals of academic 

structures, practices, and policies as well as the elimination of language and interactions that 

create overtly hostile, patronizing, or indifferent workplaces for women” (p. 76). 

The purpose of this paper is to highlight bodies of literature that, as seen in our data, are 

pertinent to engineering education as a professionalizing field. Specifically, we address the 

following questions: (1) What gendered facets of faculty careers have STEM faculty 

experienced? (2) What are the implications of these gendered facets for engineering 

education as a profession? Based on in-depth interviews with 44 faculty members, we 

identified three leading themes as gendered facets of faculty careers. The themes were: (1) 

socialization and informal social networks; (2) gender roles and unconscious bias; and (3) 

work-family balance. Together, these facets contribute to the “cumulative disadvantage” 

faced by female faculty members. Our analysis points to several themes as important 

research horizons for engineering education researchers interested in advancing engineering 

education as an inclusive profession. 

Literature Review: Gender in Faculty Careers 

Socialization and informal social networks 

Socialization, “the process through which individuals learn the necessary behaviours and 

skills to fulfil new roles,” (Sallee, 2011, p. 188) is a common theoretical lens used in higher 

education literature. Formal and informal social networks play key parts in the socialization of 

new faculty (Bagilhole & Goode, 2001; Tierney & Bensimon, 1996). Informal socialization 

consists of after-work activities, lunches, and water cooler gatherings, for instance, and 

female faculty in male-dominated departments are often not included in these activities 

(Rose, 1989; Tierney & Bensimon, 1996). More than just leading to feelings of isolation and 

loneliness, as that exclusion does for female science and engineering faculty, it also has 

serious implications for career success (Bagilhole & Goode, 2001; Tierney & Bensimon, 

1996). Male informal social networks contribute to the success of men’s careers in multiple 

ways that typically go unseen, or are treated as unproblematic facets of academia. Women’s 

exclusion means they have less access to information, collaboration and professional 

opportunities, and support (Bagilhole & Goode, 2001). However, the advantages men accrue 

through gendered socialization dynamics most often are interpreted as happenstance, or 

being in the right place at the right time, rather than being seen as a systematic gender 

advantage: “For men who more usually find themselves in influential company, the process 

of networking, mentoring and sponsorship need not necessarily be a conscious activity. The 

enhancement of academic reputation becomes a by-product of an informal culture” 

Proceedings of the 2012 AAEE Conference, Melbourne, Victoria, Copyright © Beddoes, Pawley, & Banerjee, 2012 


(Bagilhole & Goode, 2001, p. 173). In other words, “Success is not achieved by publishing 

more, or even doing better research, but through personal contacts, friendships and 

cooperative work with key players in the field” (Bagilhole & Goode, 2001, p. 166).   

Gender roles and unconscious bias 

Gender roles, or gender stereotypes, are “consensual beliefs about the attributes of women 

and men” that inform collective “expectations associated with women and men” (Eagly & 

Karau, 2002, p. 574). Gender role research shows that certain traits and behaviours are 

generally associated with and women and others with men. Studies from social and 

organizational psychology fields, among others, reveal that women are expected to be nice, 

communal, and non-self-interested, while men are expected and perceived to be competent, 

agentic, dominant, and influential (Babcock & Laschever, 2003; Biernat & Fuegen, 2001; 

Carli, 2001; Heilman, 2001). Moreover, these associations are descriptive (relating to how 

men and women actually do behave), prescriptive (influencing how we believe men and 

women should behave), and injunctive (carrying social sanctions for those who transgress 

them) (Eagly & Karau, 2002; Heilman, 2001). Gender roles prescribing that men are more 

competent and that women need to be nice mean that women and their work products are 

evaluated less favourably, particularly when they do not conform to roles, e.g., if they are too 

assertive. Contrary to popular myth, academia is not immune from gender-biased 

evaluations and assumptions about incompetency based on race or gender (Bagilhole & 

Goode, 2001; Moody, 2004; Shields, Zawadzki, & Johnson, 2011). However, gender biases 

of this sort are difficult to detect and prove because they are subtle, indirect, and implicit. 

Often people are not aware of how their judgments are shaped by gender roles and consider 

themselves unbiased (Dovidio, 2001; Heilman, 2001; Shields, et al., 2011). Therefore, 

“Although women may suspect that they’ve been the victims of negative attitudes toward 

women, they can rarely prove it and often have no recourse” (Babcock & Laschever, 2003, p. 

94). The current systems and processes for evaluating faculty, including for tenure and 

promotion, are set up in ways that promote the operation of unconscious biases (Beddoes & 

Pawley, In review; Moody, 2004; Shields, et al., 2011). 

Work-family balance 

As we elaborate upon in greater detail elsewhere (Beddoes & Pawley, In review), the 

challenge of balancing work and family is a common theme in research on faculty. While 

many faculty, men and women alike, struggle with this balance, research has shown that 

women struggle more and sacrifice more in the struggle than men do (Fox, Fonseca, & Bao, 

2011; Morrison, Rudd, & Nerad, 2011; Philipsen, 2008; Primack & O'Leary, 1993; Sorcinelli & 

Near, 1989; Thompson & Dey, 1998; Wilson, 2003; Wolfinger, Mason, & Goulden, 2008). It is 

well documented that women spend more time on housework and childcare activities than 

their male partners, even when holding full-time jobs (Baker, 2008; Coltrane, 2004; Leonard, 

2003). Moreover, male scientists and faculty members tend to have more supportive home 

environments, which help advance their careers (Hochschild, 1975; Morrison, et al., 2011; 

Thompson & Dey, 1998; Traweek, 1992), and the careers of male faculty benefit from family 

and children in ways women’s do not (Mason & Goulden, 2004). Not only do men benefit in 

ways women do not, but having children carries a stigma for female faculty that it does not 

for men (Tierney & Bensimon, 1996). 


Participants and recruitment 

Participants included 44 faculty members (17 men and 27 women) in science, technology, 

engineering, and agricultural fields at a large, public research university in the Mid-western 

region of the United States. Participants represented several different racial and ethnic 

groups; however, because not all participants chose to identify their ethnicity, we cannot 

Proceedings of the 2012 AAEE Conference, Melbourne, Victoria, Copyright © Beddoes, Pawley, & Banerjee, 2012 


report any numbers in that regard. In this paper, participants are identified as P1 through 


Potential participants were identified through: 1) publicly available data (e.g. departmental 

websites and newsletters); 2) college-level Deans’ offices; 3) faculty hire date; and 4) 

modified snowball sampling. Recruitment focused on tenured and tenure-track faculty 

progressing through certain career path points, including initial hiring, third-year review, 

tenure, and subsequent promotion. An email was sent to eligible faculty inviting them to 

participate in an interview. If they were interested in participating, they then contacted us. 

Additionally, at the end of each interview, participants were asked for names of other faculty 

that might be eligible for the study and willing to participate. Although participants were not 

involved in education research themselves, their experiences and beliefs are germane to 

engineering education because they provide insights on cultures and policies of engineering 

departments and the majority of faculty involved in the emerging field of engineering 

education are located in engineering departments. 

Data collection and analysis 

Semi-structured (Fetterman, 2010), in-person interviews were conducted between 2009 and 

2011. They lasted approximately 90 minutes in length. Interviews were recorded and 

transcribed by a professional transcriptionist. Transcripts were pseudonymized to remove 

actual names and any other identifying information. This paper emerged from two larger, and 

ongoing, studies on the limitations of pipeline and chilly climate metaphors and promotion 

and tenure policies. Participants were asked how they felt about: the pipeline metaphor and 

the way it explained women’s underrepresentation among STEM faculty; aspects of women’s 

career pathways not covered by the pipeline and chilly climate models that should be given 

further attention; how the pipeline metaphor fit their own career pathway; and their 

experiences with promotion and tenure policies. Data were analysed using a grounded 

theory approach (Strauss & Corbin, 1998) to identify leading themes that emerged from the 

interviews. Other findings from the on-going research projects have been published 

elsewhere (Banerjee & Pawley, 2011; Pawley & Hoegh, 2011; Schimpf, et al., 2012).  

Findings and Discussion 

Socialization and informal social networks 

Female participants discussed being excluded from male social networks and a lack of 

freedom to engage in those networks, even if they wanted to. P16 stated that the university 

was female-friendly; however, her explanation belied that statement. She elaborated that she 

liked the Women in Engineering lunches, but women had had to create their own lunches 

because they were being excluded from the men’s lunches:  

I do find [this university] female-friendly. I like the women in engineering lunches that we 

have. I think those are interesting and good…I have noticed that when men were hired I 

would see them going out for lunch. No one ever asked me out for lunch. So, you know, 

the times that I have had lunch with male colleagues it’s been me that’s gone and said, 

“Let’s have lunch.” I’ve never been invited for lunch…with anyone. So I always have to 

have lunch at my desk.  

She compared the situation to her former institution, and noted a bind women face:  

The faculty [at the other university] also tend to have a lot of lunch meetings. So, you 

know, you get together with a colleague and you have some stuff to sort out and you eat 

together as well and have kind of that social interaction as well. And it’s just very different 

here. And I feel kind of weird always being the one going to my colleagues and going, 

“Let’s have lunch.” You know, especially since I’m the woman. [It] doesn’t matter what 

happens, you do have to be careful. I have to make sure, with male colleagues, I’m 

always asking about their wives, I’m always asking about their children. I’m letting them 

Proceedings of the 2012 AAEE Conference, Melbourne, Victoria, Copyright © Beddoes, Pawley, & Banerjee, 2012 


know I’m not hitting on you!...And I think if I get married that will be less of a problem, but, 

I think there are some things in which a single female woman is seen as threatening.  

Others believed that women tend to be more isolated, which is detrimental to their careers 

because they do not have access to or knowledge of the same resources as men who are 

included in social networks. A lack of mentoring was also cited as a challenge more often 

faced by women than men. These experiences of exclusion and isolation from social and 

professional networks can have serious negative consequences for women’s careers, as 

prior literature, discussed above, demonstrates.  

Gender roles and unconscious bias 

Although we did not specifically ask any questions related to unconscious biases, several 

participants recognized that the tenure and promotion system left room for biases and the 

“likeability factor.” For instance, P34 said: 

It takes a while to build up a picture of what to do. You have to talk with a number of 

people, because everybody’s perspectives on these things are different. There’s one 

senior professor who states, basically if he wants you to be a colleague, he’ll vote [yes]. 

He doesn’t care what you put down on the form. While there’s others that…try to dismiss 

anything they know about you personally, and they just look strictly at the objective 

criteria. Everybody sort of has a different idea of what they want. So from that perspective, 

it’s sort of a little bit inscrutable as to what exactly you need to do. 

P6 worried about the role of external letters, saying, “I don’t know that I have any enemies in 

the field but perhaps there are people out there who don't like me or like my work and I was 

really scared that some of those people could write bad letters.” P6 also said that the secrecy 

is “really frustrating…Especially from the perspective of a woman I think you worry about 

there being some kind of an old boys club. I had no evidence to say that was going be the 

case but I think that’s where I felt particularly vulnerable.” Similarly, P11, now an 

administrator, recognized that the process is susceptible to “double standards” and is “all 

kind of relative in many ways” because “we’re all people that have biases and we look at 

things all in different ways.” P39 also recognized that “there is the possibility for abuse,” 

elaborating on the ability of vocal or influential committee members to sway the vote and the 

role of human biases: 

I may take the same case and decide I really like this and I can present all the positives 

and give excuses for all the things that weren’t done quite right, or I can take exactly that 

same case and absolutely destroy it. The system relies on a few key individuals fairly and 

objectively presenting the case.  I would say I’ve seen a few cases where that hasn’t been 

the case.  Where I’ve seen a presentation and I think, you know, that wasn’t done in the 

best interest of the faculty member.  So, I think probably each year there’s a very small 

number of cases that you look at and you think, wow, if a different person had been 

presenting that, that may have been a different outcome.  And that’s where unintended 

biases could be coming into play…You’re never going to remove the fact that people are 

involved in the process…but I think we have to have many checks and balances in place 

to make sure that the committees of people making these decisions are not letting 

elements of their subjectivity that are probably not appropriate come into play.  

Furthermore, P39 emphasized that, in discussions, people do not always express their true 

opinions, because votes do not always match the discussion: “People vote and it’s a 

confidential vote and so people put things down on a piece of paper and sometimes it’s 

surprising, you know, you had this discussion and you think, wow, everyone said they’re of 

the same opinion and you look at the vote and it’s like, where did these three numbers come 

from?”  Thus, participants voiced concern over the ways in which individual biases enter into 

evaluation processes.  

Proceedings of the 2012 AAEE Conference, Melbourne, Victoria, Copyright © Beddoes, Pawley, & Banerjee, 2012 


Work-family balance 

As reported in greater detail elsewhere (Beddoes & Pawley, In review), the most common 

theme that emerged was work-family balance. Most participants expressed a belief that there 

are conflicts between being a female faculty member and having children and a partner. 

They believed that faculty careers are too “demanding” and the work is not “family-friendly” 

because it entails too great an investment of time for women who also want to have children. 

As P19 said, explaining why she believed women are underrepresented among STEM 

faculty, “I think that the reason it happens is because women think that if they have this 

job…they can’t have kids and they can’t have a family and that they’re gonna be working like 

100 hours a week and that won’t leave time for anything.” Reflecting back on her own 

experience and expressing a similar sentiment, P16 said, “By the time I went into a faculty 

position I pretty much abandoned the idea of having children…And so, I guess that did make 

it easier for me to conceive of being successful, because I knew I would have so much more 


The work-family balance challenges were directly linked to the fact that women have greater 

family and housework responsibilities.  P42 explained:  

The conflict for [women] is [to] balance work and life.  I have to say women’s requirements 

are much higher than men.  And what I may say may be not politically correct, 

but…unfortunately, our society is such that I think women’s load is higher than men.  I 

think women tend to be more nurturing of the men.  And men are much less nurturing of 

the woman, in a husband/wife relationship.  That makes [a woman’s] job much, much 


Many participants commented on the unequal domestic and emotional labour energies for 

wives, the expectations that women should put more energy into the marriage and how those 

expectations conflicted with demanding nature of faculty careers. Jokes about needing a 

“wife” also revealed unequal gendered expectations. For example, as P14 said, “Just every 

once in a while, it’s like, ‘Oh, I wish I had a housewife to help me out, too.’ You know?” It 

should be noted that both male and female participants made such jokes about needing 


In addition to general discussions of family-related responsibilities, participants also 

discussed stigma and negative perceptions of female faculty who have children, including 

negative treatment during pregnancy. Legitimately, then, P19 worried that having children 

would negatively affect colleagues’ perceptions of her: 

The other thing to…think about is how having kids…affects others’ opinions of you…I’m 

afraid that…if I have kids before tenure, people will think that maybe I’m not so serious or 

maybe, like, the job isn’t my highest priority or if they would use it as an excuse to look 

down on me, which I’m not saying people in this department would necessarily. But I don't 

know. I don't know everybody really well…When you go up for tenure, they’re the ones 

that are gonna be deciding whether or not you get to stay. And so, if people think that 

you’re good and you take your work seriously and you’re productive, then you’re good to 

go. And if people think that you’re just off having a bunch of kids all the time and you’re 

not doing your work…that reflects negatively on you. But at the same time…there’s…all 

these guys in the department…who have kids, right? And I don’t think it’s ever reflected 

negatively on them that they’ve had kids. 

Similarly, P16 believed there was “stigma” associated with having children if women take 

advantage of parental leave policies. Therefore, along with socialization and unconscious 

biases, gendered-family roles contribute to the “cumulative disadvantage” of female 

engineering faculty.  

Proceedings of the 2012 AAEE Conference, Melbourne, Victoria, Copyright © Beddoes, Pawley, & Banerjee, 2012 


Discussion and Conclusion 

In contrast to scholarship that examines the challenges of conducting education research 

within engineering departments, this analysis has focused on the challenges of being a 

female faculty member in an engineering department, where engineering education initiatives 

for, the most part, currently reside.  Leading gendered facets of STEM faculty careers were 

found to be: (1) socialization and informal social networks, (2) societal gender roles and 

unconscious biases, and (3) work-family balance. The findings reveal that there are multiple 

and complex gendered facets to academic careers, and increasing the number of female 

STEM faculty will therefore require multiple and synergistic strategies. Participants felt 

strongly that it was important to discuss and publicize the struggles female faculty face 

because the struggles often go unseen and unaddressed, even by women themselves, until 

they are given an opportunity to talk about it. For instance, P16 reflected upon how 

articulating her experiences in the interview made her more aware of problems that she 

usually tends to dismiss as “nothing.” 

We suggest that, as engineering education emerges as a research field, our findings, and the 

three themes identified in this analysis, serve as promising research horizons for engineering 

education researchers. Extending research done in other fields and in other contexts (e.g., 

business) to engineering education contexts would be valuable. For example, data-driven 

studies of unconscious biases operating among engineering faculty specifically would likely 

go some way toward convincing engineering faculty that they exist and shape careers. 

Another way in which the research could be extended would be through similar analyses of 

other national contexts. While the literature in which our analysis is grounded is international 

in origin, our data came only from one university in the United States, and engineering 

education researchers and administrators should understand the challenges faced by female 

faculty members in their own countries. Additionally, comparative international studies of 

work-family balance in different countries could be useful to identify best practices that could 

be adopted in other countries. The ways in which faculty socialization differs across national 

contexts would also be important to understand, as would strategies that have successfully 

been used by female faculty to overcome those challenges.  

Our findings resonate with much prior research on higher education generally, and STEM 

fields specifically, and we contend that they are worth highlighting in the current engineering 

education context. Female faculty face multifaceted, and intersecting, gender biases that put 

them at a disadvantage compared to their male colleagues. P16 described what others have 

labelled “cumulative disadvantage”, the notion that there are many, often small, barriers that 

add up to female faculty being at a disadvantage: “It’s more like, a drip, drip, drip. So … 

there’s always like, this little drop of water falling on your head. So it’s little small things. And 

that’s what wears you down.” Indeed, our findings reveal that cumulative disadvantage 

involves complex and intersecting facets, three of which we discuss in this paper. Despite 

prior documentation of these issues, since the 1970s and 80s, faculty are still experiencing 

the same problems. This suggests not only that the findings bear repeating but that given the 

lack of change, new strategies are needed to address them. There is an opportunity at the 

moment for the engineering education community to take these gender biases seriously as 

part of their efforts to create an inclusive profession. If gendered facets of engineering faculty 

careers are not recognized or addressed, then all professionalization efforts will serve to 

maintain the status quo of unequal treatment and opportunities for female faculty. 


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We thank our participants for sharing their stories and thoughts with us, members of the 

RIFE Group for discussions and comments that informed this work, and Jordana Hoegh for 

data collection. This research was supported by the National Science Foundation under 

Grant No. HRD-0811194.  The findings and recommendations expressed in this article are 

those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science 


Copyright statement 

Copyright © 2012 Kacey Beddoes, Alice L. Pawley, & Dina Banerjee: The authors assign to AAEE and educational non-profit 

institutions a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article 

is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant a non-exclusive licence to AAEE to publish this 

document in full on the World Wide Web (prime sites and mirrors), on Memory Sticks, and in printed form within the AAEE 2012 

conference proceedings. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the authors. 




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