Women comprise more than 50% of those who attend college (Lopez & Gonzalez-Barrera, 2014). In spite of this, much has been made of the "chilly climate" or unwelcoming environment for women in higher education (Crawford & LacLeod, 1990; Hall & Sandler, 1982; Morris & Daniel, 2008; Whitt, 1999). Elements of this chilly climate include both overt and covert behaviors by faculty, administrators, and students (e.g., sexist humor, stereotypical comments of women's abilities) as well as institutional policies and practices. Studies have shown that a chilly climate can have a negative impact on cognitive development (Whitt, 1999) and can also influence women’s desire to stay and persist within a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) field (Shapiro & Sax, 2011). For women in traditionally male-dominated academic programs such as engineering, the issues of a chilly campus climate are particularly salient as the female population they affect is often a significant minority. At X University College of Engineering (COE), women are currently 20 percent of the overall undergraduate student population within the college.
Improving women’s retention in engineering fields requires a multifaceted approach. Both direct support for women, along with the development of allies, are crucial to promoting a long-lasting, positive climate for women studying in this field. With the help/aid of allies to promote a positive environment, women within the COE can achieve a sense of belonging and connection to their field and thus they are more likely to be retained and matriculate to graduation. Allies for Women Engineers (AWE) at X University is a pilot cohort of 12 male undergraduate and graduate engineering students who are being trained as allies for women in the COE. While going through a one-year program focusing on gender equity, implicit bias, microaggressions, and sociocultural conversations, these individuals will become equipped to act as allies specifically for women in the COE, but also for other underrepresented groups, as they move from academe into the professional arena.
While improved retention of students, especially women students, in the X University COE would inevitably indicate immediate success of this initiative, the overall significance of this program goes beyond retention numbers. AWE will provide support for women while also providing opportunities for personal and professional growth for cohort members as well as classmates and colleagues who participate in outreach activities sponsored by AWE. The assessment and evaluation of this program will be multifaceted and will include the impact of the program on men within the cohort, and both men and women who attend the outreach/programming throughout the year. This paper will highlight details and logistics of the training program and highlight the first phase of assessment.
Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper?
Visit the ASEE document repository at
for more tools and easy citations.