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Gender and Department Heads: An Empirically-Inspired Literature Review

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division: Faculty and Gender Issues

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.812.1 - 26.812.14



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Paper Authors


Kacey D. Beddoes Oregon State University

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Kacey Beddoes is a Research Associate in the School of Civil and Construction Engineering at Oregon State University. She received her PhD in Science and Technology Studies (STS) from Virginia Tech, along with graduate certificates in Engineering Education and Women’s and Gender Studies. She serves as Managing Editor of Engineering Studies and Assistant Editor of the Global Engineering Series at Morgan & Claypool Publishers. Her current research interests include gender in engineering education research, interdisciplinarity, peer review, engineers’ epistemologies, and global engineering education.

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Corey T. Schimpf Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16


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

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Alice Pawley is an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering Education and an affiliate faculty member in the Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies Program and the Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering at Purdue University. She was co-PI of Purdue’s ADVANCE program from 2008-2014, focusing on the underrepresentation of women in STEM faculty positions. She runs the Feminist Research in Engineering Education (FREE, formerly RIFE, group), whose diverse projects and group members are described at She received a CAREER award in 2010 and a PECASE award in 2012 for her project researching the stories of undergraduate engineering women and men of color and white women. She received ASEE-ERM’s best paper award for her CAREER research, and the Denice Denton Emerging Leader award from the Anita Borg Institute, both in 2013. She helped found, fund, and grow the PEER Collaborative, a peer mentoring group of early career and recently tenured faculty and research staff primarily evaluated based on their engineering education research productivity. She can be contacted by email at

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Examining Department Heads Through A Gender LensInspired by storytelling circles with female academics, this paper examines the role ofdepartment heads vis-à-vis gendered career experiences and women’s persistentunderrepresentation among science and engineering faculty members. It focuses on the level ofpower heads are afforded, presents new and understudied perspectives on the department headliterature, and suggests research horizons and policy recommendations. Five gendereddimensions of department head literature are identified and discussed. Given that departmentheads play pivotal roles within the academy, their actions warrant further examination,specifically as they pertain to gender biases.The storytelling circles were one part of a larger research project, and they took place at a large,public, research-intensive university in the United States. Participants were both tenure-track andtenured female faculty members who represented seven different departments, all in the generalclassification of science, engineering and technology fields. While analyzing the data employingopen coding, the importance of department heads emerged as a leading theme. Throughout thestories, department heads were portrayed as pivotal actors. Positive stories recounted instanceswhen a department head had been ‘supportive’ in a way that had significant career implications.The stories highlighted the fact that department heads influence not only day-to-day jobsatisfaction but significant career outcomes such as tenure and promotion as well.The paper begins with a description of the path that led us to this analysis, which is important forunderstanding the structure of the article. Next, we identify five gendered dimensions of thedepartment head literature, explaining why each is problematic. We then discuss the relationshipbetween our data and the literature, and put forth recommendations for future research andtraining. In the conclusion, the paper explores an important topic that has not yet received criticalattention: the majority of current literature for and about department heads and the policyrecommendations therein do not adequately address, and in fact perpetuate, many of theproblems highlighted in our storytelling circles.  

Beddoes, K. D., & Schimpf, C. T., & Pawley, A. L. (2015, June), Gender and Department Heads: An Empirically-Inspired Literature Review Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24149

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