Intellectual Merit: The University of Louisville is undertaking a project based upon the theory that women who have been successful in engineering schools and workplaces have developed tacit knowledge (assumptions, habits, and strategies that individuals know but usually cannot articulate explicitly) about how to interact successfully in this environment. The goal of this project is to tap into this tacit knowledge and bring it to the surface where it can serve as a resource for young women and girls just entering engineering and similar male-dominated fields. Stage one of the project identifies common problem scenarios that women might face in male-dominated settings by interviewing and conducting focus groups with approximately 100 undergraduate women majoring in engineering. Stage two uses these situations as the basis for discourse completion interviews with approximately 60 female engineering faculty and professionals from a range of backgrounds. Interviews with approximately 20 male professionals will be used as a control population. These interviews will enable the identification of some features of tacit knowledge about communication in engineering. Stage three will involve focus groups of about 80 undergraduate students to double-check whether the findings and conclusions resonate.
Broader Impacts: This project will produce new knowledge about how gender interacts with the discourse and interpersonal norms of masculine cultures such as engineering. It connects research on frequently cited barriers to women's persistence in engineering (such as self-confidence, stereotype threat, and school climate) to research on engineering communication, providing a new lens for understanding these issues. Most importantly, this project will identify specific strategies that women have successfully used to navigate and even change masculine fields, providing information that can address the problem of the "leaky pipeline" of women in engineering.