Equality at a faculty level: an intersectional approach

The efforts to attract more girls and young women to computing are skyrocketing lately. Governments and universities are developing and starting to implement policies and action plans to increase the recruitment and retention of women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). In the US, #CSforAll aims to bring computing to not only girls but all underrepresented groups.

Lots of research point to the importance of role models to encourage pursuing – and staying in – a career in computing. And yet, gender equality at a faculty level is something much less studied. Particularly, if we look at the challenges faced when the intersection of class and ethnicity have with gender. So it was motivating to attend the session Faculty Development: Culture and Practices at the IEEE Frontiers in Education conference this October, where 3 papers caught my eye and inspired me to look more into this area. Matilde Sánchez-Peña presented 2 literature reviews described below, and Juan M Cruz  the work in progress of a project to support junior and mid-career faculty from underrepresented groups (see all references at the end of this post).

Sánchez-Peña first presented a review of research (or the lack thereof!) on Asian-American women faculty. Asian-Americans are considered “overrepresented” but “understudied”. In other words: given the percentage of this group in the general US population, their presence in science and engineering is not regarded as low. However, when one splits the numbers according to gender, it is possible to see the underrepresentation of women.


Sánchez-Peña presenting their work and motivation

The paper lists identified challenges that Asian-American women faculty face. Contrary to the somewhat common view of Asian-American women as being only those from Far East Asia (like China or Thailand), this paper considers Far East Asia, Southeast Asia and India.

However, they point out the mistake of seeing Asian-Americans as a homogenous group. The challenges faced are different, since the culture and background are so different as well.

This aggregation, to be avoided, happens with Latinos/as as well. The second paper presented by Sánchez-Peña looked at the factors affecting the persistence of Latina faculty, from an intersectional perspective. One of them is familismo, or a strong attachment to family members (both core and extended). This can also be studied considering the “academic family”. Interestingly enough, familismo can both encourage and deter Latina women from advancing their careers: family members may act as positive role models, at the same time that this strong attachment may be a cause for a Latina to avoid distancing herself from the family for career opportunities, for example to attend/work at a prestigious university.

Cruz presented work in progress to support junior and mid-career faculty from underrepresented groups. As above, this is particularly important to provide students of the same communities with role models and mentors. The project includes workshops to tackle questions such as what the factors hindering and encouraging these people are, and Cruz and his co-authors share interesting results about, for example, perceived difference in treatment by these faculty.

I really encourage you to read these papers (see reference list below). I had the chance to meet and talk to both presenters after their session. Their passion for what they do is contagious, and their chosen topics are very relevant indeed!


Papers mentioned in this post:

Sambamurthy, N., Main, J. B., Sanchez-Peña, M., Cox, M. F., & McGee, E. (2016, December). Asian-American women engineering faculty: A literature review using an intersectional framework of race, class, and gender. In Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), 2016 IEEE (pp. 1-7). IEEE.

Sanchez-Peña, M., Main, J., Sambamurthy, N., Cox, M., & McGee, E. (2016, December). The factors affecting the persistence of Latina faculty: A literature review using the intersectionality of race, gender, and class. In Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), 2016 IEEE (pp. 1-9). IEEE.

Cruz, J. M., Hasbun, I. M., Adams, S. G., Banks-Hunt, J. M., & Barabino, G. A. (2016, December). Perceptions of treatment for underrepresented minority faculty in engineering. In Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), 2016 IEEE (pp. 1-5). IEEE.



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