Team Spirit: Connecting Social and Respect Team Networks to Academic Trajectories

Emily N. Cyr, Hilary B. Bergsieker, John Donald


Relative to men, fewer women enter engineering majors (Jorstad, Starobin, Chen, & Kollasch, 2017), and only 60% of female engineering students graduate (vs. 80% of men; Bell, Spencer, Iserman, & Logel, 2003). We hypothesize that social network structures are a specific impediment to female engineers, who are often stereotyped negatively and subsequently socially isolated. We studied a first-year engineering undergraduate course, wherein men and women worked in micro-teams but earned individual final grades. We simultaneously modeled multiplex (social and respect) networks over the entire term and leveraged cognitive social structure methods (Krackhardt, 1987) to examine perceived tie (dis)agreement. Methods. Undergraduates (N = 333, 220 men, 107 women) completed measures one month (Survey 1) and one term (Survey 2) after starting university. Multiplex directed team whole network structures were operationalized as who considers whom a friend and who respects whom as competent. Depending on the perceptual slice, each possible tie may be modelled as ego-alter (reported by origin of the tie), alter-ego (reported by the target of the tie), or alter-alter (reported by third-party observers). Friendship networks. Women began with many female friends and befriended more women over time, yet considered few men to be friends. Men’s friendships were more gender balanced, and their outdegree increased slightly over time. Turning to friendship ties received from teammates, we simultaneously tested the impact of persistent (averaging structures across Survey 1 and 2) and changing (subtracting Survey 2 structures from Survey 1) friendship indegree. Increasing in indegree from female teammates predicted better final grades, regardless of persistent structures. Conversely, being consistently liked by a high proportion of male teammates predicted higher grades (yet increasing in male friendship indegree had no impact on final grades). Respect networks. Women respected the vast majority of their female teammates at both time points. Conversely, women began the term respecting a relatively smaller proportion of their male teammates, and tended to decrease in respect outdegree toward men over time. Men’s respect outdegree was again more gender balanced and stable over time. Regardless of target or origin gender, maintaining high respect indegree (and improving over time) was linked to higher grades. Network consensus. Exploratory analyses tested for tie agreement. Overall, origins and targets were more likely to agree about the value of a respect (vs. liking) tie. Drilling into gendered perceptions of received ties, female targets tended to be maximally attuned to female origins (especially regarding liking ties), and male targets were less accurate overall (regardless of origin gender or tie type). Regarding alter-alter ties, observers tended to be more accurate than targets, especially regarding cross-gender respect ties. Conclusions. These findings highlight the need to build engineering curricula that foster strong initial team friendships, as network structures are closely linked to grades yet change little from first impressions (especially men’s perceptions). Future work illuminating the specific importance of peer friendships in academia will also be discussed.

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