Asee peer logo

The Influence of Gender Stereotypes on Role Adoption in Student Teams

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

Undergraduate Student Issues: Culture

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1217.1 - 23.1217.16



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Lorelle A Meadows University of Michigan

visit author page

Dr. Meadows is Assistant Dean of Academic Programs in the office of Undergraduate Education for the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan.

visit author page


Denise Sekaquaptewa University of Michigan

visit author page

Dr. Denise Sekaquaptewa is Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

visit author page

Download Paper |


The Influence of Gender Stereotypes on Role Adoption in Student TeamsEducational research provides ample evidence of the benefits of effective group work toengineering students including improved material retention, development of higher-ordercognitive skills, and higher performance (Finelli et al., 2011). This work also describes bestpractices in the creation of effective student teams including team size, the placement of studentsin teams, and student diversity. While diversity in this context includes a broad range ofconsiderations spanning abilities and perspectives, Tonso (2006) suggests that teams shouldinclude racial and ethnic diversity specifically, whenever possible. However, research hasshown that despite best practices, women or minorities on teams can experience negativeoutcomes. Their perspectives are not always considered valid by majority teammates, and theyare often assigned unimportant tasks (Ingram & Parker, 2002, Michaelsen & Sweet, 2008),reflecting a societal stereotype of majority men as engineering “experts.” Moreover, under-representation of one’s social group (e.g., gender or race) in the academic environment can leadto reduced performance as a result of stereotype threat, i.e. the concern that poor performancemay appear stereotype-confirming to others (Steele, Spencer, & Aronson, 2003; Sekaquaptewa& Thompson, 2002; 2003). The isolation that these students feel on their teams may lead todiminished feelings of belonging in their field and lower retention among these individuals(Brainard & Carlin, 1998).Despite the employment of best practices, an analysis of over 1400 students involved in grouporal presentations reveals that women on first-year engineering project teams exhibit less activeparticipation than men, and that this happens regardless of the representation of women on theteam. Men are disproportionately more likely to present the technical content in oralpresentations than women, to speak longer than expected and longer than women, and to fieldmore audience questions than women (Meadows & Sekaquaptewa, 2011; Sekaquaptewa &Meadows, 2012). In addition, students’ self-reported learning from the project was positivelycorrelated with taking on active presentation roles, roles primarily adopted by men. This paperprovides a summary of a project designed to begin to explore the antecedents of this pattern ofbehavior. To complement the quantitative results, this project consisted of a focus group study,involving students who were enrolled in the targeted engineering course in a previous term.Themes emerging from the focus groups highlighted the presence of gender stereotypic roleadoption. Although students in general felt that teams strive for fairness in determining roles,those roles were recognizably aligned along stereotypical lines. For example, men were seen ashaving the greatest technical expertise or experience, Asian American men tended to be incharge of the mathematical aspects of the project and women did more of the writing. Whilestudents recognized that their roles seemed to conform to stereotypes, they thought it was mostlyself-determined, that they were not pressured into it. Stereotyping was reported as women mostoften taking on organizational roles, taking notes, scheduling meetings, and distributing agendas.Of interest, women saw the non-technical roles as less desirable because these are seen by othersas insubstantial, but these were the very roles that women were most often taking on. Thus, wewere able to document that gender stereotypes influenced the roles adopted by men and womenin their group project presentations and that students, while recognizing the stereotypical patternsof behavior, do not recognize the influence that conforming to these patterns has on theireducational outcomes.References:Brainard, S.G. & Carlin, L. (1998). A Six-Year Longitudinal Study of Undergraduate Women in Engineering and Science. Journal of Engineering Education. 87(4), 369-375.Finelli, C.J., Inger, B., & Mesa V. (2011) Student teams in the engineering classroom and beyond: setting up students for success. CRLT Occasional Paper No. 29, University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, Ann Arbor, Michigan. 12 pp.Ingram, S., & Parker, A. (2002). Gender and modes of collaboration in an engineering classroom: A profile of two women on student teams. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 16(1), 33-68.Meadows, L. & Sekaquaptewa, D. (2011). The effect of group gender composition on student participation and learning in undergraduate engineering project teams. Proceedings of 2011 ASEE Annual Conference, Vancouver, BC, June, Paper 2011-1319, 13 pp.Michaelsen, L. K., & Sweet, M. (2008). The essential elements of team-based learning. In L. K. Michaelsen, M. Sweet, & D. X. Parmelee (Eds.), Team-based learning: Small group learning’s next big step (pp. 7-27). New Directions for Teaching and Learning, No. 116. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Sekaquaptewa, D., & Meadows, L. (2012). Gender stereotypic roles in engineering student project presentations: Men give technical content whereas women handle introductions. Paper to be presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Experimental Social Psychology, Austin, TX.Sekaquaptewa, D., & Thompson, M. (2002). The differential effects of solo status on members of high- and low-status groups. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 694-707.Sekaquaptewa, D., & Thompson, M. (2003). Solo status, stereotype threat and performance expectancies: Their effects on women’s performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39, 68–74.Steele, C. M., Spencer, S. J., & Aronson, J. (2002). Contending with group image: The psychology of stereotype and social identity threat. In M. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 34, pp. 379–440). New York: Academic Press.Tonso, K. L. (2006). Teams that work: Campus culture, engineer identity, and social interactions. Journal of Engineering Education, 1(1), 1-13.    

Meadows, L. A., & Sekaquaptewa, D. (2013, June), The Influence of Gender Stereotypes on Role Adoption in Student Teams Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22602

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