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NEWS
Study Explores Challenges That Female Engineers of Color Face
April 6, 2018

A joint Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) research study recently released found that there is a lack of role models for women of color in engineering, gender and racial biases encountered in the workplace, and a level of disillusionment regarding the level of impact that they would have as engineers.

The purpose of the study was to explore the challenges that female engineers of color face in their first years of employment and understand how their social and professional networks have prepared them to face these challenges.

SWE and NSBE conducted the study in an effort to identify strategies to diversify the engineering profession and ensure that the needs of this subpopulation of engineers are encouraged to stay in the workforce. “With fewer than five percent of working engineers being women of color, more attention and support could help to increase diversity in the engineering profession,” said Roberta Rincon, PhD, manager of research at SWE.

A number of women in the study indicated that they were dissatisfied with their salary and benefits. Over 60 percent stated that they had not negotiated salary when they were offered their first job after college, and even some of those who were initially satisfied with their job offers were later surprised to discover that they were receiving less than others at their level.

Researchers were particularly interested in understanding how professional engineering associations like SWE and NSBE can better support women of color to help increase their retention in the engineering workforce. While over 90 percent of the women interviewed were current members of a professional engineering association, there were a number of recommendations offered to help these organizations better support women engineers of color in those first years in the engineering workforce, including: helping women of color find mentors; better support of women after a job relocation; accommodation of women’s busy schedules and dispersed locations so they can maintain an active membership; increased diversity of organizations’ leadership; and diversifying events and workshop topics. These recommendations can be mirrored in the workplace.

“We conducted this study with SWE to gain a greater understanding of the experiences that discourage women of color from entering and staying in engineering careers. What we learned was both painful to hear and extraordinarily helpful in providing good direction to the cause of engineering diversity,” said Karl W. Reid, Ed.D., NSBE Executive Director. “The study we published last year with SWE and WEPAN, ‘Ignored Potential,’ highlighted the need to increase the number of African-American women in engineering. ‘Women of Color in the Engineering Workplace’ goes further and deeper, presenting recommendations that will assist both NSBE and SWE in accomplishing our organizations’ missions and achieving our common goals.”

This qualitative study included interviews with 31 women of color who had earned their engineering baccalaureate degrees between 2011 and 2015 and had at least one year of experience as employed engineers. Asian, Black, Hispanic and Native American women were included in the sample, representing 10 different engineering disciplines.

The report can be downloaded here.


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