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Isolation, Microaggressions, and Racism: Black Engineers in Technology Companies

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Perspectives on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Beyond the Undergraduate Years

Tagged Topics

Diversity and ASEE Diversity Committee

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Paper Authors


Francesca Dupuy University of Florida

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Francesca Dupuy is an undergraduate in Environmental Engineering Sciences. She is conducting narrative analysis of Black engineers’ experiences in technology companies. Her work seeks to illuminate the ways in which these experiences are racialized despite the public pronouncements of these companies supporting increased diversity.

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Elliot P. Douglas University of Florida

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Elliot P. Douglas is Professor of Environmental Engineering Sciences, Associate Director for Research in the Institute for Excellence in Engineering Education, and Distinguished Teaching Scholar at the University of Florida. His research interests are in the areas of environmental equity, cultures of inclusion in engineering, the impact of engineering education research on the practice of engineering education, and qualitative methodologies.

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Paul G. Richardson Independent Consultant/Engineer

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I studied electrical engineering at UC Irvine and Boston University. I then worked as an engineer at companies including DEC, IBM, Apple and Microsoft as a design/ design verification engineer from 1983 to 2014. Since then I have been working to transition from engineering back to being student. I am currently pursuing studies in anthropology.

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Diversity in the technology industry continues to lag despite increasing scrutiny. In addition to lack of representation, the climate for underrepresented minorities in these companies is poor. One recent study found that 37% of those who left their companies did so because of unfairness or mistreatment, with many others identifying unfairness as a contributing factor. Our goal is to understand the racialized experiences of Black engineers and how they navigate the varied climates in their companies. The analysis is being conducted through critical narrative analysis to understand the meaning behind the engineers’ life experiences. The engineers discuss several issues in their narratives including lack of diversity in the engineering divisions and lack of support for minorities in the workplace. Currently, many companies claim that diversity is a top priority in their workplaces; however, they neglect to discuss how much of the diversity is focused on recruiting from Historically Black Colleges and Universities and placing the minorities recruited in divisions such as human resources.

The four interviews that have been conducted thus far have been structurally analyzed and smoothed using Labov’s structural analysis. Interviews were reorganized to follow the Labov narrative structure of abstract, orientation, complicating action, evaluation, resolution, and coda. The conflicting actions within each narrative were analyzed using thematic analysis to identify how each engineer dealt with their situation. Several common themes included feelings of isolation due to the lack of diversity, having to deal with microaggressions on a daily basis, and meritocracy (or lack thereof) in the workplace. Feelings of isolation were particularly striking, even when companies had Black affinity groups. One engineer who attended a Black affinity group meeting noted the lack of engineers in the group, saying “I would go to those meetings and people would be like they don’t know who I am or they hadn’t seen me.”

While many companies state that they seek to increase diversity numbers, less funding is being allocated for diversity recruitment and diversity programs that foster a more welcoming environment in the workplace. Through this project we would like to help others gain a better understanding of the experiences of Black engineers in the technology industry. The results gained from this project will be used to make diversity issues in the workplace more apparent to senior officials in companies so that they can reconsider the way they approach diversity.

Dupuy, F., & Douglas, E. P., & Richardson, P. G. (2018, June), Isolation, Microaggressions, and Racism: Black Engineers in Technology Companies Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30737

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