Despite decades of effort to increase the number of female graduates in engineering, women remain vastly underrepresented in the discipline. As millions of dollars in recruitment and retention programs have failed to reverse the underrepresentation problem, we as engineering education researchers need to refocus our efforts. Too often research is framed in student deficits and does not include an examination of the culture in engineering. In light of inertia to change, we must better identify the root cause of sustained gender inequity. Many scholars argue it is time start re-examining the undergraduate engineering culture. This includes the pedagogical practices, long-standing traditions, and socialization of engineers steeped in male norms. In this research, we sought to identify the teaching methods and deeply entrenched beliefs that transmit inherent messages of a hierarchical discourse community; a community that is not friendly to women. To explore the barriers to engineering and the sorting mechanisms that lead to attrition of women from the field, we interviewed men and women engineering professors and students in three university engineering programs. Faculty and students alike identified and rationalized several time-honored engineering education practices that encouraged women to adopt a more masculine role, deeming them as necessary for success in a biased environment. In exploring the beliefs of engineering education insiders, the enculturation of women in engineering was evident in both the female faculty and students, with the female students being much more aware of the process than their faculty “role models.” We found evidence that enculturation of female faculty results in their failure to recognize the role culture plays in maintaining a dearth of women engineering students. Finally, we found that professors’ beliefs are echoed in the accounts of students, which leads to the perpetuation of many practices that alienate women.

Date of creation, presentation, or exhibit



© American Society for Engineering Education, 2021

Document Type

Conference Paper

Department, Program, or Center

Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology (CET)


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