Departmental climate is a critical variable for the success of women and other underrepresented engineers. Recruitment, retention, and promotion strategies have generally focused on individuals, instead of group-level processes. We designed a process called Dialogues to emphasize inclusive and participatory departmental interactions by intentionally structuring iterative conversations and activities. Our approach builds on the strengths of engineering culture, such as teamwork and problem solving, to transform group dynamics and mobilize departments toward gender equity.
The Dialogues process used trained faculty facilitators to guide academic departments through eight hours of strategic planning over multiple sessions. We completed this process with 16 academic departments, including engineering, science/math, and social-behavioral sciences. Based on pre- and post-Dialogues surveys, the engineering faculty experienced more consistent positive shifts in perceptions of their department’s climate. These shifts in perception included increased belief in their ability to work together toward gender equity, decreased conflict, and decreased dependence on their department leadership to solve problems. By engaging engineering faculty members to define their departments’ visions, goals, and strategic plans, the structure of Dialogues promoted more inclusive departmental dynamics.
After each session, faculty provided responses to two questions: “What worked about the session?” and “What could be done to make things work better?” We used these responses to explore why Dialogues was particularly successful for engineering departments. Responses reflected the following aspects of group dynamics (DICCe), indicating how the Dialogues design integrated with departmental and disciplinary contexts to produce the above effects:
• Dependence (D): How we rely on others to shape our future
• Interdependence (I): How we engage with each other
• Conflict (C): How we deal with disagreement or move toward agreement
• Collective Efficacy (Ce): How confident we feel that we can achieve our goals
We used a template analysis approach (King, 2004) to produce a list of codes representing key reoccurring themes related to DICCe constructs. We used an iterative coding process (Gioia et al., 2012) to identify first-order and second-order themes within the above categories. All responses were coded by two researchers who compared reliability and achieved consensus through discussion in the case of disagreement. The faculty responses indicated that engineering faculty appreciated the chance to generate ideas and brainstorm. Although at times they found the process confusing, it allowed them to prioritize ideas, to hear and listen to colleagues, and to engage in (open and honest) discussions. Distinct from other groups, engineers wished to engage with upper level administrators as participants in the process.
We believe that Dialogues was successful with engineering faculty because the process mirrored the engineering design process (Dym et al., 2005) and was similar to providing solutions to “ill-structured problems” (Jonassen, 2014; Simon, 1977). These “challenge-based” environments motivate people to solve problems, because they are embedded in familiar and meaningful activities. Dialogues was more successful in engineering contexts, indicating that designing change processes that reflect the approach of “ill-structured problems” has enormous potential to improve gender equity in engineering.
Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper?
Visit the ASEE document repository at
for more tools and easy citations.