Salt Lake City, Utah
June 23, 2018
June 23, 2018
July 27, 2018
Liberal Education/Engineering & Society
Where’s my code? Engineers navigating ethical issues on an uneven terrain
Context: Claims to professionalism among engineers are rooted in three key elements: a specialized knowledge base, self-regulation, and a commitment to public service. 1-3 These elements have been historically codified into a set of ethical guidelines. 1, 4, 5 While these guidelines—Professional Codes of Ethics—may help engineers appreciate what not to do,4, 5 they are insufficiently specific to guide novice engineers through ethically ambiguous situations. As early 20th century artefacts, they also tend to reproduce structural inequities embedded in the history of the profession, and are thus insufficient guides for historically underrepresented groups of engineers.6-14 The Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board’s (CEAB) pairing of ethics AND equity15 demands that we look beyond the codes to help them navigate ethically ambiguous situations and patterns of privilege likely to arise in their professional lives. Our three-year project set out to fill this pedagogical gap by developing anonymous case studies based on the experiences of Canadian engineers grappling with ethical and equity-based issues in their professional lives.
Methodology: We conducted semi-structured career history interviews with 14 engineers deliberately diversifying our sample by discipline, career stage, and other demographic markers. After transcribing the interviews verbatim, we inductively coded them,16, 17 and developed anonymous case studies based on critical incidents shared by each participant. We then tested four completed case studies with 112 undergraduate engineering students. This paper highlights three of the fourteen cases to examine the inequitable terrain on which professional engineers navigate ethical issues in their professional lives.
Results: Our open-ended invitation to share an ethical dilemma resulted in an interesting demographic trend. Gender figured prominently in the experiences of 5/7 women, but only 1/7 men; race figured prominently in the experiences of 2/4 racialized engineers, and 0/10 white engineers; and the only two engineers to mention sexuality were LGBTQ-identified. While not all female engineers raised the issue of gender and not all racialized engineers raised the issue of race, our findings suggest that equity issues are more prevalent in ethical dilemmas faced by historically disadvantaged groups of engineers than in those of their historically advantaged counterparts. We illustrate this finding through the cases of “Tanya,” an engineering intern who reconsiders her technical career after encountering subtle and overt discrimination in the mining industry; “Matthew,” a junior engineering operator who is asked to cover for a senior colleague who fell asleep on the job; and “Awande,” an industrial engineering student who is shocked and angered when her professor introduces the mechanization of an industry historically driven by slave labour as though it is a neutral example of engineering optimization.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that equity issues are deeply engrained in engineering ethics and as such, it behoves us as engineering educators to move beyond simply exposing students to their respective ethical codes. We also need to help them navigate the challenging ethical situations they are likely to encounter in their professional lives, paying close attention to the systemic inequities structured into the profession.
References: 1. Andrews, G.C., Canadian Professional Engineering and Geoscience: Practice and Ethics. Fifth ed. 2014, Toronto: Nelson. 472. 2. Larson, M.S., The Rise of Professionalism: A Sociological Analysis. 1977, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 309. 3. Marston, D.L., Law for Professional Engineers: Canadian and Global insights. Fourth ed. 2008, Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson. 4. Tang, X. and D. Nieusma. Institutionalizing ethics: Historical debates surrounding IEEE's 1974 Code of Ethics. in American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition. 2015. Seattle, WA. 5. Vesilind, P.A., Evolution of the American Society of Civil Engineers code of ethics. Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice, 1995. 121(1): p. 4-10. 6. Jaffee, E.M. and D.M. Riley. "It kind of chose me": Agency and influence in women's decision to major in engineering. in American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition. 2010. Louisville, KY. 7. Riley, D.M. The island of other: Making space for embodiment of difference in engineering. in American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition. 2013. Atlanta, GA. 8. Riley, D.M. and A.L. Pawley. Complicating difference: Exploring and exploding three myths of gender and race in engineering education. in American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition. 2011. Vancouver, BC. 9. Riley, D.M., A.E. Slaton, and A.L. Pawley, Social justice and inclusion: Women and minorities in engineering, in Cambridge Handbook of Engineering Education Research, A. Johri and B.M. Olds, Editors. 2015, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge. p. 335-356. 10. Faulkner, W., Doing gender in engineering workplace cultures. II Gender in/authenticity and the in/visiblity paradox. Engineering Studies, 2009. 1(3): p. 169-189. 11. Faulkner, W., Doing gender in engineering workplace cultures 1: Observations from the field. Engineering Studies, 2009. 1(1): p. 3-18. 12. Herkert, J.R. Yogi meets Moses: Ethics, progress and the grand challenges for engineering. in American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition. 2011. Vancouver, BC. 13. Seron, C.S., et al. "I am not a feminist, but:" Making meanings of being a woman in engineering. in American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition. 2011. Vancouver, BC. 14. Tonso, K.L., Student engineers and engineer identity: Campus engineer identities as figured world. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 2006. 1(2): p. 273-307. 15. CEAB, Accreditation Criteria and Procedures 2008, 2008, Engineers Canada: Ottawa, ON. p. 24. 16. Denzin, N.K., The interpretive process, in The Qualitative Researcher's Companion, A.M. Huberman and M.B. Miles, Editors. 2002, Sage: Thousand Oaks. p. 349-366. 17. Denzin, N.K. and Y.S. Lincoln, Strategies of qualitative inquiry. 2nd ed. 2003, Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Rottmann, C., & Reeve, D., & Sacks, R., & Klassen, M. (2018, June), Where’s My Code? Engineers Navigating Ethical Issues on an Uneven Terrain Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. https://peer.asee.org/31242
ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2018 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015