A warmer climate for women in engineering

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Date of Original Version



In 2000, University of Rhode Island (URI) President Carothers acknowledged, following an extended and sometimes acrimonious AAUP faculty union grievance process, that there had been a climate hostile to women faculty in the College of Engineering. The purpose of this paper is to describe the positive steps that were taken at URI subsequent to that grievance to improve the climate for women faculty in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields, and to place these steps within a framework for climate change. The paper starts with an overview of the percentages of women nationally in Engineering, followed by a description of the hostile grievance process that took place at URI. Next is a discussion of pro-active measures that were taken by many communities of faculty on the URI campus, including most recently, those of the ADVANCE grant funded by the National Science Foundation. These measures have been guided by a grounded theory approach to climate change that posits simultaneous change in individuals, interactional contexts, and institutional practices. As a result, URI has recruited a significant percentage of new women faculty in STEM fields in a relatively short time, and is working hard to ensure that they are retained. There have been many recent national initiatives to address the problem of the under representation of women in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines. It is well recognized that, beyond workplace equity, diversifying the practitioners in Engineering and other STEM fields will enrich these disciplines by bringing different perspectives, skills, and values to the fore, will help America remain globally competitive, and will more responsibly integrate Engineering practice with societal needs. Importantly, women and minority faculty also provide critically needed role models needed to attract and retain a more diverse student population. In Engineering, women comprise only about 20% of bachelor degree recipients, and are only 6% of full professors, 12% of associate professors, and 18% of assistant professors.[1] In addition to recruitment barriers, retention and advancement provide additional obstacles. Reduced tenure rates, slower promotion rates, inflexible and demanding work schedules that make balancing work and family difficult, heavy service and teaching loads, and a male-dominated, often hostile work climate that does not validate the needs or contributions of women participants all contribute to a higher attrition rate[2]-[5] for women than for men STEM faculty. The University of Rhode Island was representative of these trends until a series of events, culminating in the activities of the NSF ADVANCE program, provided avenues for positive change in the College of Engineering, which now serves as a model for diversity at the University. © American Society for Engineering Education, 2006.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings

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