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Recent attempts to ground leadership theory in engineers’ day-to-day realities suggest that while engineers may accept the managerial and supervisory responsibilities structured into their work, many resist the notion of engineering as a leadership profession. When engineers resist leadership, they give up their authority to frame the problems they are hired to solve. Our paper examines the prevalence of this resistance alongside other personal and professional barriers to leadership, drawing on a large-scale survey and four follow up focus groups with engineers in Ontario, Canada. We found that the majority of survey respondents actually embraced the idea of engineering as a leadership profession, however, many experienced structural barriers to their leadership. When we disaggregated findings by gender, race, age, licensing status, job category, and internationally trained status, we found that racially minoritized men and women, white women, and early career engineers were most likely to report having experienced barriers to their leadership. Compounding the impact of structural barriers was the inequitable distribution of two important supports—professional autonomy, and decision-making authority. This indirect finding highlights the important relationship between leadership access and managerial authority. Our ability to understand the key structural impediments to embracing and enacting leadership among engineering students and professionals will help us as engineering educators facilitate meaningful leadership development opportunities for our students and alumni, ultimately enhancing their capacity for social, professional, and organizational impact.
Rottmann, C., & Moore, E., & Chan, A., & Weissling, L., & Radebe, D. (2022, August), “What’s getting in the way?” Personal and Professional Barriers to Engineering Leadership Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. https://peer.asee.org/41857
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