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Community and Career Development: LATTICE for Early-career Underrepresented Minority Women
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Claire Horner-Devine

 

Team LATTICE: M. Claire Horner-Devine (University of Washington, Counterspace Consulting); Coleen Carrigan (Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo); Christine Grant (North Carolina State University); Julie Ivy (North Carolina State University); Cara Margherio (University of Washington); Eve Riskin (University of Washington); Joyce Yen (University of Washington)

Launching Academics on the Tenure-Track: an Intentional Community in Engineering (LATTICE) is a national program to increase the retention and advancement of women in academic careers to create greater diversity in engineering and computer science leadership. LATTICE is funded by National Science Foundation (NSF) ADVANCE (HRD-1500310) as a collaborative project among the University of Washington, North Carolina State University, and California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. The goal of the program is to positively impact early-career women in electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) and early-career underrepresented minority (URM) women in engineering who are interested in faculty careers.

 

Experiences of Women from Underrepresented Groups in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)

The data on women, and, especially, historically URM women, demonstrate a stark picture of racial and gender inequality in academic engineering. For example, during the 2016-2017 academic year, only 23.5 percent of the doctorates in engineering were awarded to women, and only 16.9 percent of engineering faculty were women, as reported by American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). The numbers are significantly smaller for URM women in engineering. In 2017, URM women, specifically African American, Hispanic American, Native American, and Pacific Islander women, earned just 194 doctorates, less than 1.7 percent of all engineering doctorates earned. During that same year, less than eight percent and six percent of engineering faculty were URM assistant and full professors, respectively; numbers for URM women in engineering faculty positions are so small that they are not enumerated in the ASEE report.

 

Bar plots highlighting the engineering doctoral degrees awarded by gender in 2017 and the percentage of women Tenured/Tenure-Track faculty by level

Data reported by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) highlights inequalities faced by women in engineering within academia. Graphic source: ASEE “Engineering By the Numbers.”

In order to increase representation of URM women in faculty positions, the retention of women in engineering is especially important. Two critical periods of attrition in engineering are the postdoctoral and early-career tenure-track faculty stages. The loss of URM women among highly trained and advanced engineers, who are poised to launch their independent careers as innovators and educators of the next generation, is tragic, both for the women engineers’ careers and for the future of engineering. A number of factors, including hostile workplaces, lower pay, bias in promotions, and lack of collegiality serve as significant barriers to the success and advancement of all women in STEM. As a result of intersectionality, women of color in STEM can face additional barriers and challenges, such as isolation, institutional biases, the need to work harder to be viewed as successful, reduced access to informal networks and mentoring, and the emotional tax of navigating majority spaces.

 

The transition from graduate school to postdoctoral scholar, or later from postdoc to early-career faculty positions is certainly “an exciting time of scientific growth, creativity and independence.” It can also be a time of isolation and uncertainty, and the newfound independence can be overwhelming. The nature of these stages provides a career space filled with incredible possibility, growth, and chaos. In such times, career development and support through community is especially important. Postdocs must often learn to navigate a new institutional culture, career stage, and personal community, whether part of a larger lab or as an “only” postdoc in their research group or lab. The resulting isolation is particularly acute for individuals who are an “only” in terms of their social identity (i.e. gender identity, race, ethnicity, ability status, among others). Research shows that a strong connection to community can counter this isolation and that the resulting sense of belonging is important to individual success and persistence in STEM, especially for postdocs from groups underrepresented in their fields.

 

The LATTICE professional development program has a focus on community, ongoing connection, and skill building to support women who are engineers as they navigate the postdoctoral and early-career stages.

 

The LATTICE professional development program has a focus on community, ongoing connection, and skill building to support women who are engineers as they navigate the postdoctoral and early-career stages. The first LATTICE symposium was held May 18–21, 2017. The second LATTICE symposium for women of color in engineering will be held May 30–April 2, 2019.

 

LATTICE Logo

Launching Academics on the Tenure-Track: an Intentional Community in Engineering (LATTICE)

Why is LATTICE unique?

The LATTICE symposium is a four-day symposium that takes place at a retreat-like setting with a focus on developing skills such as time management and communication with a cohort of peers. LATTICE leverages three key features: community, ongoing connection, and counterspaces- gleaned from previous successful efforts at the University of Washington (WEBS, Women Evolving the Biological Sciences and BRAINS, Broadening the Representation of Academic Investigators in Neuroscience). These program demonstrated the importance of providing professional development in an ongoing manner through community connections and strong relationships. Within this community, aspects of social identity are woven into conversations about career success and experiences. The LATTICE community extends well beyond the symposium itself. Participants regularly join peer-mentoring circles after the symposium to continue their connection to the community and engage in ongoing career development.

 

What have we learned?

Thirty early-career women in EECS attended the first LATTICE symposium in May of 2017. Results from post-symposium evaluation, as well as an online follow-up survey, demonstrate that the LATTICE experience was valuable. In particular, participants reported increases in their self-confidence and networking activity. For example, one participant wrote, “I became more confident in standing up for myself and expressing my needs, asking for resources, seeking advice, starting more collaborations, and designing a new course.”

 

Group photo of the Lattice team

The LATTICE Program team includes the principal investigator, co-principal investigators, and program staff who jointly manage the program's overall direction and facilitate its day-to-day-operations. Photo credit: Claire Horner-Devine, PhD

Participants also noted the importance of their peer mentoring circles participation in providing community, ongoing connection, and accountability. For example, one respondent wrote, “I was motivated by the LATTICE workshop, but the real benefit has come from my ongoing LATTICE calls. Although our group is small, I can't overstate how wonderful it's been to have someone to check in with every other week who can be honest with about the good, the bad, and the ugly of my professional experiences!”

 

A second goal of the LATTICE program is to conduct an anthropological investigation into why and how the LATTICE intervention works, and how the diverse team of LATTICE organizers work together. In early work, the team has examined how race, gender, and academic discipline intersect to create solidarity and a collective identity among the leadership team, termed a coherent group. A recent paper explores the formation of this coherent group and how it functions in broadening participation in academic engineering.

 

How can you get involved? You can learn more about LATTICE by visiting the webpage and sharing it with your network. If you are an early-career woman of color in engineering, you may be eligible for our 2019 LATTICE program. You can apply when the application goes live in October 2018. Please send any questions to lattice@uw.edu or contact any of the LATTICE Team members to learn more.

 

Claire Horner-Devine, PhDClaire Horner-Devine, PhD, is one of the NPA Diversity Officers. Horner-Devine is co-founder and co-director of national programs designed to accelerate and improve the career advancement of early-career women and researchers from underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and founder of Counterspace Consulting (www.counterspaceconsulting.com). Horner-Devine can be contacted at claire@counterspaceconsulting.com.

 

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