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Study Reveals Specific Incidences Of Gender and Racial Bias In The Engineering Workforce
November 7, 2016

The Society of Women Engineers’ (SWE) newest study reveals specific gender and racial biases faced within the engineering profession, and unearths a wealth of first-hand information about how implicit bias plays out in engineering. Implicit or unconscious bias can have a negative impact on the workplace climate, affecting decisions in hiring, promotions, and compensation. Climate Control: Gender and Racial Bias in Engineering focused on four basic patterns of bias. Nearly one-third of respondents to the study offered comments, many of which provided examples of bias they’ve experienced first-hand. The results of the study suggest that workplace climate is tougher for women and people of color as compared with white men.

“The most surprising thing about the study was the flood of comments we received at the end of the survey,” said Joan C. Williams, Distinguished Professor of law at the University of California, Hastings College of Law and Founding Director of the Center for WorkLife Law. “Our findings confirmed decades of research and allowed us to examine whether what’s been reported in social psychology labs goes on in actual workplaces. Often it does.”

More than 3,000 professionals with at least two years’ experience as engineers or engineering technicians completed the survey. Respondents were asked questions relating to four basic patterns of implicit bias: Prove-It-Again, Tightrope, Maternal Wall and Tug of War. Questions were also asked to gain insight into implicit bias in hiring, promotions, performance evaluations, access to networking and mentoring and compensation. Comparisons were made by comparing the answers of women and engineers of color with those of white men.

Some of the other topics covered within the survey included thoughts on the fairness of performance evaluations and access to advancement opportunities and promotions. Overall, the data reveals that white men face fewer obstacles in the engineering workforce than women and people of color.

“Both of SWE’s recent studies on gender and racial bias and culture within the workplace confirm many of the insights we already know – women and people of color struggle to gain distinction within the engineering space which is very much still dominated by men,” said Karen Horting, CEO and executive director at SWE. “What we hope to achieve with this research is to encourage more dialogue on the topic of implicit bias and inspire and drive change in the engineering profession.”

This research project is made possible by the Society of Women Engineers Corporate Partnership Council. For more information about Climate Control: Gender and Racial Bias in Engineering, including quantitative data and qualitative feedback, click here.

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