Asee peer logo

Engaging Foucault to Better Understand Underrepresentation of Female STEM Faculty

Download Paper |


2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Retaining and Developing Women Faculty in STEM

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.489.1 - 23.489.14



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Kacey Beddoes Purdue University

visit author page

Kacey Beddoes is a Postdoctoral Researcher with ADVANCE-Purdue in Purdue’s School of Engineering Education. She received her PhD in Science and Technology Studies (STS) from Virginia Tech in 2011 and serves as Managing Editor of Engineering Studies and Assistant Editor of the Global Engineering Series at Morgan & Claypool.

visit author page

author page

Corey T Schimpf Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16


Alice L. Pawley Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Alice L. Pawley is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering Education and an affiliate faculty member in the Women’s Studies Program and the Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering at Purdue University. She has a B.Eng. in chemical engineering from McGill University, and an M.S. and a Ph.D. in industrial and systems engineering with a Ph.D. minor in women’s studies from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is Co-PI and Research Director of Purdue University’s AD- VANCE program, and PI on the Assessing Sustainability Knowledge project. She runs the Research in Feminist Engineering (RIFE) group, whose diverse projects and group members are described at the website She is interested in creating new models for thinking about gender and race in the context of engineering education. She was awarded a CAREER grant in 2010 for the project, ”Learning from Small Numbers: Using personal narratives by underrepresented undergraduate students to promote institutional change in engineering education.” She received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) in 2012.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Engaging Foucault to Better Understand Underrepresentation of Female Engineering FacultyUnderrepresentation of female engineering faculty persists across the country. Moreover, thenumbers of female faculty remain disproportionate to the numbers of women receiving PhDs inengineering, and those numbers are even lower for women of minority racial and ethnicbackgrounds. Despite decades of attention and effort, significant change in the numbers offemale faculty has not occurred, and change is predicted to remain slow well into the future.Given that underrepresentation persists despite the large amount of time, energy and moneyspent on increasing the numbers of female engineering faculty, we suggest that new theoreticalperspectives are needed to better understand the challenge. To that end, this paper demonstrateshow Foucauldian notions of power, which are currently under-engaged in the engineeringeducation literature, can advance research on underrepresentation.Michel Foucault was a highly influential philosopher, historian, and social theorist whosetheories of power have been taken up by scholars in a wide range of social science andhumanities fields. One of his most significant contributions to social thought lies in areformulated conceptualization of power. Rather than something held and imposed on us bythose with authority over us, power is exercised through our own thoughts, actions anddiscourses. It operates at the microlevel, and the goal for scholars who aim to better understandthe operation of power is to examine how it functions at the individual level and what resultsfrom its operation.Data for this analysis came from in-depth, semi-structured interviews with twenty-nine facultymembers in science, technology, engineering, and agricultural fields at a large, public researchuniversity in the Mid-western region of the United States. Throughout the interviews — whichcovered a range of topics, including parental leave and challenges of faculty careers — power, inthe Foucauldian sense of the term, emerged as a significant factor shaping female facultymembers’ career paths and decisions. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to identify anddiscuss the ways in which Foucault can be engaged to better understand faculty careers andunderrepresentation.The article begins with an overview of our theoretical lens: Foucauldian notions of power.Following that is a two-part literature review on: 1) challenges faced by female faculty members,and 2) engagement with Foucault in engineering education literature. After a description of ourmethods, we present our findings, identifying ways in which further engagement with Foucault’sscholarship can help engineering educators and administrators better understand both thechallenges faced by female engineering faculty and persistent underrepresentation of femalefaculty. Specifically, we identify the following topics that would benefit from furtherengagement with notions of power: 1) gendered family roles, and 2) policy use. We then discusshow Foucauldian perspectives, which are currently under-engaged, can advance scholarship onwomen in engineering. Lastly, we summarize future work planned around this topic.

Beddoes, K., & Schimpf, C. T., & Pawley, A. L. (2013, June), Engaging Foucault to Better Understand Underrepresentation of Female STEM Faculty Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19503

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2013 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015