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Experiences of Women Department Chairs in Engineering: A Narrative Study

Kayla Person, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Within higher education, STEM based disciplines need strong and balanced leadership. Leadership which demonstrates equity and diversity because all perspectives are needed to solve complex issues that face our world today. In 2016, women earned 23.2% of engineering Ph.D.’s awarded, which contributes to the low number of women faculty in engineering (Yoder, 2016). Those women who enter the professoriate increasingly need to navigate the labyrinth within their faculty positions and leadership roles within higher education. A key leadership role, department chair, has numerous responsibilities as both a faculty member and an administrator. Little research has been conducted to showcase the unique experiences of women department chairs of traditionally male dominated disciplines such as engineering. The purpose of this qualitative study is to explore the experiences of women department chairs in engineering departments to understand how these women successfully navigated the pipeline and identified success strategies which led them to persist in a traditionally male dominated discipline. Additionally, this study sought to understand strategies for success, previous leadership experiences or professional training which helped to prepare them, and challenges they may have encountered or had to overcome. This narrative inquiry is guided by self-efficacy theory, feminist theory, and previous literature on women STEM faculty experiences, women in education administration, and the role of the department chair. A purposeful sampling technique (n = 6) is utilized to include women department chairs of engineering departments who had two or more years of experience as a department chair. The findings show that participants relied on a strong support system for continued success in their field and the development of their self-efficacy. Participants also engaged in a variety of professional development opportunities for skill development. Unfortunately, all participates noted incidences of gender discrimination or unconscious bias they received at varying degrees of severity. While this finding is not unique to this study, this study has demonstrated that these situations are still occurring within engineering academic departments. Studying women’s experiences and challenges within engineering academia is very valuable to promote successes and remove barriers in an effort to advance more women into the role of department chair.

Subject Area

Higher Education Administration|Educational leadership|Science education|Educational administration

Recommended Citation

Person, Kayla, "Experiences of Women Department Chairs in Engineering: A Narrative Study" (2019). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI13815316.