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Experimental Evidence Regarding Gendered Task Allocation on Teams

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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

Student Division Technical Session 1

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Elizabeth Ann Strehl University of Michigan

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Elizabeth is an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan studying Biomedical Engineering and Applied Mathematics. She has worked as a research assistant for Dr. Robin Fowler in the Technical Communication Department of the College of Engineering for several years focusing on team dynamics for first-year students and also works as a research assistant in the Daly Design and Engineering Education Research Group working on design science based research in senior-level engineering design courses.

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Robin Fowler University of Michigan

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Robin Fowler is a lecturer in the Program in Technical Communication at the University of Michigan. She enjoys serving as a "communication coach" to students throughout the curriculum, and she's especially excited to work with first year and senior students, as well as engineering project teams, as they navigate the more open-ended communication decisions involved in describing the products of open-ended design scenarios.

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Student teams negotiate many aspects of collaboration, including task division on teams. Some studies have found that there are gender differences in task allocation on engineering student teams, with men performing more technical work, and women performing more communication and project organization based tasks. It is unknown, however, if this is due to students volunteering for tasks in which they perceive they are competent (and gender differences in real expertise or in self-perception), or whether there is a more insidious tendency for students to assume male students should do the technical tasks and female students should do organizational and communication work, and to encourage teammates to work in these gender-consistent manners. In this student-directed project, participants (n=119) of varying technical backgrounds were surveyed. Participants read about a hypothetical team, with teammates given names (gender-stereotypical white and non-white names: Deondre, Destiny, Jake, and Katie). Critically, the profiles of these team members were kept constant while names were swapped, and participants were asked to assign tasks to team members. This study investigates whether there are gender or race differences regarding task allocation, when experiences/expertise are held constant and self-perceptions are irrelevant. We find no significant difference in technical tasks assigned by name. However, we find a significant difference in who is assigned managerial work (with “Katie” assigned the most, for each set of characteristics) and a marginally significant difference in who is assigned the writing work (with “Katie” again doing more of this than the other names). These results suggest that participants used assumptions about teammate demographic information as they made decisions regarding task division, at least regarding who would do managerial and writing work.

Strehl, E. A., & Fowler, R. (2019, June), Experimental Evidence Regarding Gendered Task Allocation on Teams Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32797

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