This study examines informal professional networks (IPNs) and their role in the underrepresentation of women faculty in traditionally male-dominated science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. A mixed-methods design was taken in which interviews were conducted during the qualitative phase to gather information of faculty networking experiences and the importance of IPNs in their career development. An online survey was developed based on the findings from the interviews and used to gather data during the quantitative phase to further probe the patterns and functions of IPNs. Major findings are reported, including the meaningful impact of IPNs on the career development of faculty in STEM disciplines and some significant gender differences in networking patterns.
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The survey questions, item scaling, and the response patterns will be made available by sending a request to the first author.
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This work was supported in full or in part by a grant from The University of Memphis Faculty Research Grant Fund. This support does not necessarily imply endorsement by the University of research conclusions.
Semi-Structured Interview Questions
Thank you for participating in this study. We are gathering information on faculty members’ informal professional networking patterns (explain what “informal” means). You were selected because you are a professional in one of the academic fields that is traditionally dominated by males, which include science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Do you have any questions before we start?
Could you briefly introduce yourself? Please include your current title, how many years you have been in academia, and your specialty areas.
Of how many informal professional networks do you consider yourself a member? Networks should only be counted separately if they have little or no overlap in memberships.
Can you describe each of your networks in terms of
the size (how many people you know in the network),
strength (how often you contact other members),
density (whether other members know one another), and
diversity (in terms of gender, location, and work responsibilities)?
What is the primary function of each of the networks? The function can be emotional support/friendship, instrumental/professional exchanges, or a combination of both.
How did you become a member of each of the networks?
How long have you been a member of each of the networks?
If any of the networks helped your career development?
In what manner did the networks help your career development (e.g., resources, information, support, and upward mobility)?
How important do you think informal professional networking is for career advancement? Please explain.
Do you think minority status (in terms of gender or race) is a factor in your access to and your role in those networks? How so (e.g., fairness, accessibility, and equality)?
How would you describe your networking skills and strategies? Please give examples.
If there were any changes you would like to make in your informal professional networking, what would they be?
If there were training programs offered to new assistant level professors to improve their networking skills and strategies, what would you expect to see in those programs?
Are there any other thoughts you would like to share about your experiences and opinions about informal professional networking?
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Xu, Y.J., Martin, C.L. Gender Differences in STEM Disciplines: From the Aspects of Informal Professional Networking and Faculty Career Development. Gend. Issues 28, 134 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12147-011-9104-5
- Informal professional networks
- Faculty career development
- Gender differences