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The Efficiency-Inclusion Dilemma: Reproducing Dominance Hierarchies through Efficiency Logics in Semiconductor Engineering

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

Broadening Participation and Inclusion in STEM: Equity, Culture & Social Justice in Education Division Technical Session 8

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Paper Authors


Sarah Appelhans University at Albany-SUNY

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Sarah Appelhans is a postdoctoral research assistant at Bucknell University. She earned her PhD in Cultural Anthropology at the University at Albany (SUNY). Her dissertation research, "Flexible Lives on Engineering's Bleeding Edge: Gender, Migration and Belonging in Semiconductor Manufacturing", investigates the intersections of gender, race/ethnicity, and immigration status among semiconductor engineers. She is currently the resident social scientist in the Electrical Engineering Department at Bucknell, exploring how to teach convergent (deeply interdisciplinary) problems to undergraduate engineers. Past research projects include studies of governance in engineering education and the influence of educational technology on engineering education.

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This study explores the relationship between inclusion and efficiency in engineering culture. Prior research has indicated that the masculine-dominant and exclusionary cultures within engineering have contributed to attrition of women and minorities from the field. In particular, cultural values such as rigor and meritocracy are mechanisms through which the discipline remains predominantly white and male. In this paper, drawing upon ethnographic fieldwork amongst engineers in the semiconductor industry, I suggest that another such mechanism is the cultural value of efficiency. Productivity and efficiency are mindsets cultivated in contemporary workplaces that justify and enable the pursuit of narrow self-interest by offloading work that is culturally determined to be “unimportant” or “nonurgent”. Engineers, with their disciplinary preference to simplify, narrow, and streamline processes, are particularly persuadable by efficiency logics. Inclusion work, however, demands a relationship of care that is undermined by the individualist logic of efficiency, contributing to women’s and minorities’ experiences of isolation and nonbelonging in the discipline. In order to improve women and minorities’ experiences in engineering, I argue that we must reimagine workplace efficiency to include actions of care as necessary and important elements of an inclusive engineering culture.

Appelhans, S. (2022, August), The Efficiency-Inclusion Dilemma: Reproducing Dominance Hierarchies through Efficiency Logics in Semiconductor Engineering Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

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