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Women, Strategic Identity Management, and Persistence in College Engineering
AuthorNaphan, Dara E.
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In this dissertation, I researched factors the predicted women’s likelihood of persistence in college engineering. Women are less likely to study engineering in college than men, and when they do, they are more likely to switch out to another major. As a male-dominated field, micro-aggressions and other forms of discrimination from males are not uncommon, and women often negotiate their identities as women and as engineering students to cope with such micro-aggressions and being in a male-dominated environment. More specifically, I examined how women’s experience of micro-aggressions, identity interference, the importance of their identities as women and engineering students, their use of identity management strategies, engagement in co-curricular activities, in-group identification, sense of belonging and self-efficacy in engineering predicted their likelihood of persistence. A survey of 404 women majoring in engineering from two mid-sized universities and focus groups with women who were still in engineering (n = 11) and who switched out of engineering (n =8) showed that micro-aggressions do not directly affect women’s likelihood of persistence. However, micro-aggressions increased their levels of identity interference, wherein a devalued identity in the context of engineering (woman) interferes with the performance of a more valued identity (engineering student), and their levels of belonging. Self-efficacy was determined to be the most important factor to predict women’s persistence in engineering. The data and models tested showed that women’s use of positive distinctiveness, which is a strategy in which women claim their identities as women and attempt to change external perceptions of women in engineering, predicted increased engagement in co-curricular engineering activities and self-efficacy. This suggests that this may be a better strategy for women in engineering to persist than social re-categorization, an identity management strategy in which women attempt to fit in with the majority and hide their gender, which did not appear to be related to the protective factors that predicted persistence in engineering (e.g., sense of belonging, self-efficacy). Policy implications are discussed in order to reign in micro-aggressions and other discrimination and increase women’s self-efficacy in engineering.