ASEE 2010: Institutional Ethnography: A research method to investigate the work-life experiences of women faculty members in STEM disciplines

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Women and people of color continue to be underrepresented among engineering faculty. A diverse engineering faculty body is important because it increases the likelihood of equitable hiring practices …

Women and people of color continue to be underrepresented among engineering faculty. A diverse engineering faculty body is important because it increases the likelihood of equitable hiring practices and reduces the likelihood of a hostile workplace climate, among other reasons. In turn, research hypothesizes that a diverse engineering faculty body will attract, recruit, and retain diverse students to the engineering profession. While there are a bevy of research papers published every year to address this persistent concern, there are few new or innovative ideas informing our theoretical groundwork for understanding this underrepresentation.

Institutional ethnography (IE) is a method used in sociology to understand the experiences of marginalized people in different kinds of institutions. Operationalized by sociologist Dorothy Smith, IE allows researchers to examine how institutions’ rules and regulations impact the lives and work experiences of people who work in those institutions. The main data collection processes for IE are interviews, discursive analyses of organizational texts and documents, and observations to study institutional members’ interactions with these same texts and policies. Researchers focus on how institutional participants understand, perceive, and negotiate institutional rules and how those understandings and negotiations affects their personal and professional successes.

In this paper, we outline how IE is an effective method of investigating the experiences of women in STEM faculty positions. We describe IE’s use as a research method within the ADVANCE-Purdue project. ADVANCE-Purdue is a NSF-sponsored project that aims to improve the job success of faculty, with a particular focus on women of color, in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines of Purdue University. Using IE as a method to study the career-based experiences of the women faculty members of the STEM disciplines, we ask how institutionally generated texts (at the departmental, college, and university levels) shape their experiences as faculty members.

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  • 1. INSTITUTIONAL ETHNOGRAPHY:
    A Research Method to Investigate The Work-Life
    Experiences of Women Faculty Members in
    STEM Disciplines
    Dina Banerjee, Purdue University
    Alice L. Pawley, Purdue University
  • 2. THESIS:
    Institutional Ethnography (IE) as an
    effective method of investigating the experiences
    of women and ethnic minority people in STEM
    faculty positions.
    RESEARCH QUESTION:
    How do institutionally generated texts impact
    work-life experiences of women and ethnic
    minority faculty in STEM disciplines.
    RESULTS:
    Based on preliminary findings through content
    analyses.
    1
  • 3. IDEAL WORKER IN STEM ACADEMIA:
    (Acker 1990)
    The image of ideal STEM faculty member is
    that of a white man. This image of ideal worker
    marginalizes women and ethnic minority people
    in the STEM disciplines.
    DOING GENDER IN STEM ACADEMIA:
    (West and Zimmerman 1987)
    • Sex-segregation
    • 4. Institutional policies
    2
    Acker, Joan. 1990. “Hierarchies, Jobs, Bodies: A Theory of Gendered Organizations.” Gender and Society. 4(2) 139-158
    West, Candace and Don H. Zimmerman. 1987. “Doing Gender.” Gender and Society. 1(2) 125-151
  • 5. INSTITUTIONAL ETHNOGRAPHY (IE):
    AN INTRODUCTION
    (Smith 2005)
    • IE: background
    • 6. IE: an analytical method
    • 7. IE: study of the same world
    • 8. IE: knowing the known
    • 9. IE: understanding the understood
    • 10. IE: knowledge system that extends beyond
    one’s day to day life
    3
    Smith, Dorothy E. 2005. Institutional Ethnography: A Sociology for People. New York, NY: AltaMira Press
  • 11. DATA:
    • Promotion and tenure policy documents as
    obtained from the university and college
    levels.
    • In-depth interviews with STEM faculty
    members (findings not included in the
    current paper)
    METHODS: Discourse Analyses of The Promotion
    and Tenure Policy Documents: Purdue University
    • University Level: Memoranda, Office of Provost
    • 12. College of Engineering: Promotion and Tenure
    Annual Review Template
    • College of Science: Tenure and Promotion Policies
    and Procedures
    • College of Technology: Faculty Handbook for
    Academic Promotion and Tenure
    4
  • 13. OPERATIONALIZATIONS:
    Inconsistency in Structureof Promotion
    and Tenure Documents:
    • Document type
    • 14. Number of pages
    • 15. Number of sections
    • 16. Number of sub-sections
    Inconsistency in Contentof Promotion
    and Tenure Documents:
    • Academic criteria
    • 17. Promotion and tenure committees
    • 18. Timelines
    5
  • 19. RESULTS:
    Inconsistency in Structureof Promotion
    and Tenure Documents:
    6
  • 20. RESULTS:
    Inconsistency in content of Promotion
    and Tenure Documents:
    7
  • 21. DISCUSSION:
    • Accessibility to the documents
    • 22. Understanding the documents
    8
  • 23. CONCLUSION:
    INSTIUTUTIONAL ETHNOGRAPHY:
    Going beyond the day to day knowledge system
    9
  • 24. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
    We thank the following people for their help in obtaining promotion and tenure
    policy documents from different colleges and for their support in this research:
    • Dr. KlodKokini, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, College of
    Engineering, Purdue University
    • Dr. Mary Sadowski, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs,
    College of Technology, Purdue University Technology, Purdue University
    • Dr. Christie Sahley, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education,
    College of Science, Purdue University & Director, Purdue Center for
    Faculty Success
    • Dr. Sandra Amass, Associate Dean for Engagement, School of
    Veterinary Medicine, Purdue University
    • Dr. Suzanne Zurn-Birkhimer, Deputy Director, Purdue Center for
    Faculty Success
    DISCLAIMER:
    This research is based on the work supported by the National Science Foundation
    under Grant No. HRD-0811194. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or
    recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not
    necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
    10
  • 25. QUESTIONS/COMMENTS?
    Dina Banerjee: dbanerj@purdue.edu
    Alice Pawley: apawley@purdue.edu
    11