Leaning into Engineering:
Tenured Women Faculty and the Policies and Programs That Support Them
While researchers have documented the barriers that women in engineering programs face (i.e. gender bias, work/family conflict, “dual career” issues, limited access to information networks), few studies examine the experiences of successful women faculty and the challenges they overcame in their career. This study filled that gap by utilizing qualitative methods to investigate the life stories of tenured women faculty in engineering. The participants in this study were female tenured associate and full professors at three doctoral research universities in the United States. This study sought to understand the challenges that female engineering faculty faced in their careers, as well as the institutional policies and programs (i.e. family-friendly policies, diversity/equity programs, mentoring initiatives, etc.) that helped them to be successful in obtaining tenure. The stories of the twenty-one tenured female engineering professors in this study depict the unique experiences that women faculty face as a gender minority in academic engineering programs. By situating this study within the context of three selective doctoral granting institutions, this study was unique in that it uncovered how institutional processes and programs directly influenced the success of women faculty in engineering. Although women at all three universities faced similar challenges including gender bias, work/family conflict, and the “two-body problem,” interviewees’ perceptions of the effectiveness of the policies and programs differed significantly by site. This study provided insights into how women faculty perceive many of these programs as well as the factors that influence the decision to utilize the policies that were implemented to support women faculty in engineering. In addition, this study provided recommendations based on the research findings that address best practices related to family-friendly policies, combating “flexibility stigma,” leadership development, and novel strategies related improving the effectiveness of informal and formal mentoring.
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