Despite widespread commitment to diversity and inclusion in engineering education, gender inequality among engineering faculty endures. Most past research on gender inequality among engineering faculty has attended to interactional-level disadvantages that emerge when broader societal-level biases manifest within the engineering context. We join a new avenue of research that takes seriously the beliefs and practices in the professional culture of engineering as a site of inequality reproduction. In this paper, we attend to one particular belief within the professional culture of engineering—the ideology of depoliticization¬¬—as a potential mechanism of inequality reproduction. Depoliticization is the belief that cultural and social concerns like inequality can and should be stripped from engineering to maintain its objectivity. Drawing on unique survey data of over 700 engineering faculty—all members of the American Society of Engineering Education—we test whether depoliticization within engineering departments may amplify gender inequality therein. Using regressions with interaction terms, we find that women faculty experience greater levels of marginalization and devaluation than men faculty in general, and these gender inequalities are significantly amplified in departments where respondents report high levels of commitment to depoliticization among their colleagues. These findings underscore the importance of considering cultural beliefs and practices within the professional culture of engineering as mechanisms of inequality retrenchment, and the ways those cultural beliefs manifest within engineering departments. The results also have implications for helping engineering departments understand and address persistent inequality within their ranks.
Erin Cech joined the department of sociology at the University of Michigan as an assistant professor in 2016. Prior to that she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University and was on faculty at Rice Univer
Dr. Heidi Sherick has worked in higher education for 30 years. Currently, Heidi is the Director of Leadership Development in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan. She provides one-on-one coaching for faculty in new executive leadership roles as well as for newly promoted faculty (Assistant to Associate).
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