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Depoliticization as a Mechanism of Gender Inequality among Engineering Faculty

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society Division Technical Session 8

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Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Erin A. Cech University of Michigan

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Erin Cech joined the department of sociology at the University of Michigan as an assistant professor in 2016. Prior to that she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University and was on faculty at Rice University. She earned her Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California, San Diego. Cech’s research seeks to uncover seemingly benign cultural mechanisms of inequality reproduction—particularly around cultural logics in popular explanations of inequality; gender, sexual identity and racial/ethnic inequality in science and engineering; and cultural definitions of “good work” and “good workers.”

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Heidi M Sherick University of Michigan

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Dr. Heidi Sherick has worked in higher education for over 25 years. Currently, Heidi is the Faculty Development and Leadership Specialist in the College of Engineering and the Medical School at the University of Michigan. Her primary role is to design and initiate a suite of professional leadership development activities and coaching, mentoring, and sponsoring strategies for faculty. She provides one-on-one coaching for faculty in new executive leadership roles and for Associate level faculty in Engineering, facilitating career advancement, fostering connections, and providing leadership development opportunities. Heidi served as the Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Programs and Diversity in the College of Engineering at Montana State University from 2001-2012. She also served as the Director of EMPower, the engineering minority program. Heidi earned her PhD in Educational Leadership from University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2014. She studied developmental relationships in higher education and investigated the processes through which higher education leadership is fostered including mentoring, coaching, role-modeling, sponsoring, and networking.

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Despite widespread commitment to diversity and inclusion in engineering education, gender inequality among engineering faculty endures. Most past research on gender inequality among engineering faculty has attended to interactional-level disadvantages that emerge when broader societal-level biases manifest within the engineering context. We join a new avenue of research that takes seriously the beliefs and practices in the professional culture of engineering as a site of inequality reproduction. In this paper, we attend to one particular belief within the professional culture of engineering—the ideology of depoliticization¬¬—as a potential mechanism of inequality reproduction. Depoliticization is the belief that cultural and social concerns like inequality can and should be stripped from engineering to maintain its objectivity. Drawing on unique survey data of over 700 engineering faculty—all members of the American Society of Engineering Education—we test whether depoliticization within engineering departments may amplify gender inequality therein. Using regressions with interaction terms, we find that women faculty experience greater levels of marginalization and devaluation than men faculty in general, and these gender inequalities are significantly amplified in departments where respondents report high levels of commitment to depoliticization among their colleagues. These findings underscore the importance of considering cultural beliefs and practices within the professional culture of engineering as mechanisms of inequality retrenchment, and the ways those cultural beliefs manifest within engineering departments. The results also have implications for helping engineering departments understand and address persistent inequality within their ranks.

Cech, E. A., & Sherick, H. M. (2019, June), Depoliticization as a Mechanism of Gender Inequality among Engineering Faculty Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32586

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