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When Gender Comes Into Play: Factors That Distinguish Colleges Of Engineering With Above And Below Average Enrollment Of Women In Undergraduate Engineering

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1368.1 - 14.1368.7



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Paper Authors


Elizabeth Creamer Virginia Tech

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Elizabeth Creamer is Professor, Educational Research and Evaluation at Virginia Tech where she teaches graduate research courses in mixed methods and qualitative research. She is the PI or co-PI of three research projects funded by the National Science Foundation to investigate issues related gender and enrollment and success in STEM fields. Over the last six years, she also has served as the Director of Research and Assessment for the NSF funded AdvanceVT grant.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

When Gender Comes into Play: Factors that Distinguish Colleges of Engineering with Above and Below Average Enrollment of Women in Undergraduate Engineering


A cluster of items related to gender distinguished between the perceptions of engineering faculty members employed in eight institutions with above and below average enrollment of undergraduate women in engineering. Response patterns point to some of the challenges faced by colleges of engineering with low proportional enrollments of women.


Investigations about the experiences of females in engineering are often framed within the context of relative numbers or proportions rather than total numbers given the fact that both women and members of other under-represented groups are often visible minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematic (STEM) fields. Social dynamics are shaped by proportional representation and when that proportion is highly skewed it can produce the phenomenon referred to as tokenism1. According to Kanter’s classic study, small relative numbers heighten visibility and bring attention to discrepant characteristics or ways that members of a population deviate from the norm. The effects of tokenism are most pronounced when the proportion and number of women is so small that the opportunities to participate in a community of like-minded individuals are limited. Attention to secondary characteristics like appearance, dress, and family roles are byproducts of tokenism that detract from accomplishments.

Tokenism and attention to secondary characteristics provides a partial explanation for why behaviors, such as sexual harassment, persist in some environments where women are visibly under-represented among the faculty and student body. Policies and practices that communicate concern about the under-representation of women can improve perceptions of climate and offset tensions created by tokenism2.

Studies that identify environmental factors that impact the productivity and satisfaction of faculty are often framed within a body of literature about climate or culture. Climate refers to measures based in faculty perceptions and attitudes. Climate reflects culture, which has been defined as “the deeply embedded patterns of organizational behavior and the shared values, assumptions, beliefs, or ideologies that members have about their organization or its work” 3. Culture is shaped by history and setting and is communicated through informal policies and practices. Perceptions of collegiality reflect an element of departmental and institutional culture that has been found to play a particularly critical role in the overall job satisfaction of female faculty members and graduate students4, 5.

A good deal of research in widely diverse settings has documented that women and men experience the same work environment quite differently6,7. Women are significantly more

Creamer, E. (2009, June), When Gender Comes Into Play: Factors That Distinguish Colleges Of Engineering With Above And Below Average Enrollment Of Women In Undergraduate Engineering Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4546

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