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Qualitative Analysis of Undergraduate and Graduate Female Engineering Students’ Strategies in Response to Gender Stereotype or Bias

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2021 CoNECD


Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day

Publication Date

January 24, 2021

Start Date

January 24, 2021

End Date

January 28, 2021

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CoNECD Session : Day 3 Slot 5 Technical Session 1

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Diversity and CoNECD Paper Submissions

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Mayari Illarij Serrano Anazco Purdue University at West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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MAYARI SERRANO is post-doctoral research assistant at Purdue University. She earned her B.S. degree in Biotechnology Engineering from the Army Polytechnic School, Quito, Ecuador. She completed her M.S. in Computer and Information Technology at Purdue University. Her interests include foster STEM enthusiasm, and technology innovation.

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Suzanne Zurn-Birkhimer Purdue University at West Lafayette

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Dr. Suzanne Zurn-Birkhimer is Associate Director of the Women in Engineering Program and Associate Professor (by courtesy) in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University. Dr. Zurn-Birkhimer conducts research and leads retention activities including administration of the undergraduate and graduate mentoring programs and the teaching of the Women in Engineering seminar courses. For the past decade, Dr. Zurn-Birkhimer’s research has focused on broadening participation of women and underrepresented group in STEM fields. Recently, she has been investigating the intersection of education and career path with cultural identity and is developing strategies to inform programming and policies that facilitate recruitment and retention of underrepresented populations in academia. In 2012 Dr. Zurn-Birkhimer was presented with an Outstanding Alumni Award from the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences and in 2019 the College of Science Distinguished Alumni Award at Purdue University. Dr. Zurn-Birkhimer earned her B.S. in Mathematics from the University of Minnesota, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science from Purdue University.

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Grace Gilan Kraus Purdue University at West Lafayette

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Grace Kraus is an undergraduate student studying Industrial Engineering at Purdue University. Grace is a member of Purdue's Women in Engineering Program's (WIEP) leadership team for the Mentors and Mentees Pair Program.

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Qualitative Analysis of Undergraduate and Graduate Female Engineering Students’ Strategies to Response to Gender Bias

Keywords: Undergraduate, Graduate, Engineering, Gender.

Abstract Innovation in science and technology is an integral part of the United States economy, and the scientific advances and technological novelty of the country have a global impact (Xie et al., 2015). However, concerns about the ability of the country to maintain its role in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) innovation have increased over the last decades (Xie et al., 2015). The federal government declared STEM fields as “areas of national need”, highlighting the need for a larger workforce in these fields (Kanny et al., 2014). In the United States and other industrialized countries, more women than men obtain college degrees (Leaper & Starr, 2019). However, undergraduate female students remain low with an average enrollment of 20% in many STEM disciplines (Smith & Gayles, 2018). Furthermore, the underrepresentation of women is prolific throughout all higher academic and professional levels (Eddy & Brownell, 2016). In the past seven years, about half of the doctorate degrees in science and engineering are earned by women but female faculty in engineering and science only reached 5% and 2% respectively (Shen, 2013). In the United States, women represent 25% of the workforce in STEM, in engineering this percentage decreases to 14% (Ellis et al., 2016). Underrepresentation of women in STEM is characterized by lower enrollment and higher attrition when compared with male peers (Smith & Gayles, 2018). More than 66% of women abandon engineering fields 15-years after obtaining their degree. This alarming rate is 100% higher than the men’s rate (Buse et al., 2013). Social climate represents a prevailing reason for women to abandon STEM careers (Leaper & Starr, 2019). Academic or professional social climates refer to “characteristics of the psychosocial environment” (Allodi, 2010, p.89). Research suggests that women’s sense of belonging towards STEM can be influenced positively and negatively by family, instructors, and peers (Leaper & Starr, 2019). Social climate characteristics include membership, influence, the fulfillment of needs, and shared emotional connection(Pretty, 1990). Membership encompasses emotional safety and fillings of belonging, influence refers to the individuals’ freedom of choice, the fulfillment of needs in a community is the factor that represents togetherness, and shared emotional denotes the quality of the interactions between community members (Pretty, 1990). Gender bias towards girls and women is common in fields in which there exists a greater disparity between the proportion of males and females (Robnett, 2016). Prior research also implies that women are exposed constantly to negative messages about their ability to succeed in STEM fields (Stout et al., 2011). Furthermore, experiencing bias could lead to low women’s self-concept in STEM (Robnett, 2016). Self-concept is defined as the “extent to which individuals believe they are capable of excelling” (Robnett, 2016, p.67). Additionally, women from typically underrepresented groups do not respond to support strategies as well as women from non-minority groups (Grossman & Porche, 2014). Evidence suggests that bias towards women in STEM fields exists and it could represent a decisive factor first for pursuing and later for staying in STEM careers (Robnett, 2016). Several universities recognize the need for specialized programs to help their current students. For example, the purpose of a Women in Engineering Program (WIEP) is to create opportunities for professional development, provide strategies and training for succeeding in engineering, and give encouragement to students. Female engineering students, at the Midwest University in which the study was conducted, involved with WIEP have the opportunity to interact face to face with alumnae (recent graduates and established professionals) who share their tips for success, career choices, and academic and professional life experiences. Formal and informal mentoring programs for graduate and undergraduate students are also available. Mentoring has been proven to effectively increase the retention of female engineering students (Haque et al., 2006). Finally, awards and grants are available, though WIEP, for graduate students to present their novel research at professional conferences. Extensive quantitative research around gender bias has been done, however, qualitative analysis in the topic is still scarce. The goal of this study is to examine the strategies used by undergraduate and graduate female engineering students in response to gender bias in academic settings. The results obtained by surveying undergraduate and graduate women, who have, by the way, successfully passed many filters towards achieving a degree in engineering, may help researchers and policymakers create more impactful approaches with regard to gender bias in academic and workplace environments. To this end in the of Fall 2019, 431 participants were recruited from the Women in Engineering mentoring program at a Midwest university, 414 completed the survey thus achieving a response rate of 96.06% in one collection round. The sample was composed of first-year engineering students (56.76%), followed by sophomores (20.29%), juniors (10.39%), seniors (8.70%), and graduate students (3.86%). The most representative age range was from 18-20 years old with a total of 81.45%. The race/ethnicity demographics of the sample displayed that 62.89% of the participants were White/Caucasian, 23.61% Asian, 5.30% Hispanic/Latino, 2.89% African American/Black, 1.69% identified themselves as other, and 0.24% preferred not to answer. All available engineering majors at the university were represented in the sample with 235 first-year engineering, 27 electrical and computer engineering, 24 mechanical engineering, 24 chemical engineering, 19 industrial engineering, 18 biomedical engineering, 18 agricultural & biological engineering, 13 civil engineering, 11 aeronautics and astronautics, 10 materials engineering, 6 environmental & ecological engineering, 6 interdisciplinary & multidisciplinary engineering, and 1 nuclear engineering. The data were collected using an on-line survey, powered using Qualtrics, that was filled out anonymously by the participants. The assessment used was comprised of 14 multiple-choice questions and one open-ended question. A qualitative analysis is currently ongoing using descriptive codding to obtain codes, categories, and themes from the collected data. This inductive approach was selected as it allows the understanding of experiences and identification of unanticipated phenomena (Buse et al., 2013). The open-ended question under analysis was: How did you deal with the gender stereotype or bias you faced? The following are of examples of responses under analysis: “I worked harder to prove them and me I could do the job.”, “I held my head high and proved them and myself that I could more then exceed their expectations”, and “Ignored it”. Our results show that out of the 414 participants, 81.93% had faced gender stereotyping or bias by the time the data was collected. Preliminary results from the quantitative analysis suggest that strategies to deal with bias changed based on academic level (first-year engineering, sophomores, juniors, seniors, graduate master, graduate Ph.D.). Additionally, a correlation between strategies and engineering field will be conducted to examine differences between fields that attract more women, such as biomedical engineering, with fields with acute underrepresentation, such as aeronautics and astronautics engineering. References Allodi, M. W. (2010). The meaning of social climate of learning environments: Some reasons why we do not care enough about it. Learning Environments Research, 13(2), 89–104. Buse, K., Bilimoria, D., & Perelli, S. (2013). Why they stay: Women persisting in US engineering careers. Career Development International, 18(2), 139–154. Eddy, S. L., & Brownell, S. E. (2016). Beneath the numbers: A review of gender disparities in undergraduate education across science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines. Physical Review Physics Education Research, 12(2), 1–20. Ellis, J., Fosdick, B. K., & Rasmussen, C. (2016). Women 1.5 times more likely to leave stem pipeline after calculus compared to men: Lack of mathematical confidence a potential culprit. PLoS ONE, 11(7), 1–14. Grossman, J. M., & Porche, M. V. (2014). Perceived Gender and Racial/Ethnic Barriers to STEM Success. Urban Education, 49(6), 698–727. Haque, T., Marszalek, J., & Linnemeyer, S. a. (2006). The Longitudinal Effects of a Women ’ s Mentoring Course on the Retention of Women in Engineering. Proceedings of the 2006 WEPAN Conference, Copyright 2006, WEPAN-Women in Engineering Programs and Advocates Network, 1–15. Kanny, M. A., Sax, L. J., & Riggers-Pieh, T. A. (2014). Investigating forty years of stem research: How explanations for the gender gap have evolved over time. Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, 20(2), 127–148. Leaper, C., & Starr, C. R. (2019). Helping and Hindering Undergraduate Women’s STEM Motivation: Experiences With STEM Encouragement, STEM-Related Gender Bias, and Sexual Harassment. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 43(2), 165–183. Pretty, G. M. H. (1990). Relating psychological sense of community to social climate characteristics. Journal of Community Psychology, 18(1), 60–65.<60::AID-JCOP2290180109>3.0.CO;2-J Robnett, R. D. (2016). Gender Bias in STEM Fields: Variation in Prevalence and Links to STEM Self-Concept. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 40(1), 65–79. Shen, H. (2013). Mind the gender gap. Nature, 495(22), 22–28. Smith, K. N., & Gayles, J. G. (2018). “Girl Power”: Gendered academic and workplace experiences of College Women in Engineering. Social Sciences, 7(1). Stout, J. G., Dasgupta, N., Hunsinger, M., & McManus, M. A. (2011). STEMing the Tide: Using Ingroup Experts to Inoculate Women’s Self-Concept in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(2), 255–270. Xie, Y., Fang, M., & Shauman, K. (2015). STEM Education. Annual Review of Sociology, 41(1), 331–357.

Serrano Anazco, M. I., & Zurn-Birkhimer, S., & Kraus, G. G. (2021, January), Qualitative Analysis of Undergraduate and Graduate Female Engineering Students’ Strategies in Response to Gender Stereotype or Bias Paper presented at 2021 CoNECD, Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day . 10.18260/1-2--36116

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