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Engineering Identity Implications on the Retention of Black Women in the Engineering Industry

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Developing Identities for Robust Careers in Engineering

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

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Paper Authors


Monique S. Ross Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Monique Ross is a doctoral candidate in the Engineering Education department at Purdue University. Her research focuses are race, gender, and identity in the engineering workplace, specifically the experiences of Black women in engineering industry. She also has interest in preparing women and minorities for career advancement through engagement in strategies for navigating the workplace. She has a Bachelors degree in Computer Engineering from Elizabethtown College, a Master’s degree in Computer Science and Software Engineering from Auburn University, eleven years of experience in industry as a software engineer, and three years as a full-time faculty in the department of engineering at a small Midwest engineering university.

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Allison Godwin Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Allison Godwin, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Engineering Education at Purdue University. Her research focuses what factors influence diverse students to choose engineering and stay in engineering through their careers and how different experiences within the practice and culture of engineering foster or hinder belongingness and identity development. Dr. Godwin graduated from Clemson University with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and Ph.D. in Engineering and Science Education. She is the recipient of a 2014 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Educational Research and Methods Division Apprentice Faculty Grant. She also was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow for her work on female empowerment in engineering which won the National Association for Research in Science Teaching 2015 Outstanding Doctoral Research Award.

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Black women comprise 6.4 percent of the U.S. population, 1.2 percent of the undergraduate engineering enrollment, and only 0.72% of the engineering workforce. The U.S. government and private corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars on diversity and inclusion efforts, yet such capital investment has not yielded the diversity dividends expected in terms of retaining women and people of color in the engineering workforce. To begin to address this issue, we conducted a qualitative research study to better understand how the experiences of Black women in engineering industry impact their decisions to stay. Previous research in this area has focused primarily on the climate and culture of the engineering discipline; however, this study focuses on how Black women develop and sustain their engineering identity in the workplace and likewise, how this affects retention. We conducted five interviews with Black women currently working in engineering industry during the spring and summer of 2015. The interviews consist of questions related to their career choice, current roles, and how they define, relate to, and describe what being an engineer means to them. Thematic analysis was used to uncover common and divergent themes across the participants, in order to better understand the implications of identity on retention of Black women in the engineering workforce. Findings indicate that while climate, culture, and other structural barriers influence a Black woman’s desire to leave engineering, the coping mechanisms that are fostered by personal agency can be the key to understanding why some Black women choose to stay in engineering despite a less than inclusive culture. This study presents the often-unheard voices of Black women in engineering to aid in addressing the often talked about engineering diversity problem.

Ross, M. S., & Godwin, A. (2016, June), Engineering Identity Implications on the Retention of Black Women in the Engineering Industry Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26652

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