NARRATIVES OF FIT: UNDERSTANDING WOMEN FACULTY STORIES OF MAKING SENSE AND FINDING PLACE IN GENDERED ORGANIZATIONS
Griffin, Kimberly A
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“Fit” is used widely in academia to indicate whether someone is admittable, hirable, or tenurable, despite concerns that fit is poorly defined and could serve as a covering term for bias. The small body of literature on faculty fit focuses primarily on the complementary attributes that exist between research institutions and their academic staff, and the role of fit as a predictor of outcomes such as intention to leave, productivity, stress, vitality, and satisfaction. Little is known about differences in fit for women and people of color. The majority of literature in the higher education and business labor sectors does not account for how organizational practices and changes over time shape members’ experiences of fit. This study centers women’s experiences of fit at a small liberal arts college by exploring how their sensemaking about themselves and their experiences in the organization have shaped their choices. Employing narrative and institutional ethnography research methods, the organizational experiences of seven tenured women faculty members at a highly selective, private liberal arts college were documented through interviews, observations, and document analysis. A narrative theory of fit as embedded in time was paired with feminist theories on inequality regimes, standpoint, and intersectionality to guide analysis. Faculty members’ narratives of fit chart how they came to enter the institution, their experiences pre- and post-tenure, and how they accommodated, resisted, and engaged the organization to cultivate a sense of fit. Cross-narrative analysis identified salient institutional events, narratives, and inequality regimes that contributed to faculty narratives of fit. These included the effects of the 2008 recession, the deployment of student evaluations of teaching in the tenure review process, and anticipated changes in leadership and policy at the college. Overall, fit for faculty emerged as a process of sensemaking influenced by institutional inequality regimes, faculty members’ organizational and identity standpoints, and their resulting agentic choices. This study enhances understanding of women’s experiences of fit, faculty experience at the liberal arts college, and the role of inequality regimes in higher education organizations. Recommendations for practice focus on mitigating the effects of inequality regimes for pre-tenure faculty.