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Exploring Barriers in the Engineering Workplace: Hostile, Unsupportive, and Otherwise Chilly Conditions

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division Technical Session - Understanding and Improving Female Faculty Experiences in STEM

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Tagged Topics

Diversity, ASEE Diversity Committee, and Engineering Deans Council

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Paper Authors


Rachel Yonemura University of Washington

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Rachel Yonemura is currently working on her B.S. in Environmental Science and Resource Management at the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington. She has been working at the University as a Research Assistant under Dr. Denise Wilson on projects regarding the Engineering Workplace as well as E-waste Sustainability. Motivation for these projects stem from an interest in public discourse and the interrelationships that occur among people of different disciplines.

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Denise Wilson University of Washington

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Denise Wilson is a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington, Seattle. Her research interests in engineering education focus on the role of self-efficacy, belonging, and other non-cognitive aspects of the student experience on engagement, success, and persistence and on effective methods for teaching global issues such as those pertaining to sustainability.

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Previous studies of the engineering workplace often emphasize understanding why and how women consider leaving a job and in some cases, exit a particular engineering workplace or engineering altogether. A 'chilly' climate has often been implicated as a primary or contributing reason for these exit decisions and has been classified in the literature under such descriptors as a hostile or macho work culture, mysterious pathways to career advancement, and extreme work pressures. This study expands on these previous studies by (a) emphasizing the engineering workplace experiences of millennials in order to understand whether these chilly climate conditions have evolved over time or are tending to persist into the next generation; and (b) studying men as well as women to gain deeper insight into which negative working conditions tend to occur across gender and which may be gender specific. We include results of interviews with 45 individuals who graduated with an engineering or computer science bachelor’s degree between the years 1998 and 2015 from five different institutions including those that are research and teaching focused, big, mid-sized, and small, and geographically disparate (from the Midwest, Southeast, Northeast, and Northwest areas of the United States). All of those interviewed for this study can be considered millennials (graduating around the year 2000 or later) and 64% of those interviewed are women. Interviews were coded using existing classifications of chilly workplace conditions and expanded to include new codes that incorporated responses that did not fit into these existing classifications. Qualitative analysis of these results showed that of the five existing classifications of chilly climate, hostile culture was predominantly expressed by women. However, extreme work pressure, mysterious career pathways, and isolation were reported by both men and women; diving catch situations (where risk averse individuals are penalized in the promotion and advancement structure) emerged only once, and seven new classifications of negative workplace conditions emerged: boring, inconsistent (work conditions), poor job security, misaligned interests, oppressive physical environment, poor management, and conflicting work/life desires.

Yonemura, R., & Wilson, D. (2016, June), Exploring Barriers in the Engineering Workplace: Hostile, Unsupportive, and Otherwise Chilly Conditions Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26843

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