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Work In Progress: Racialized Experiences of Black Engineers

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Experiences of Diverse Students

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Elliot P. Douglas University of Florida

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Elliot P. Douglas is Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering Sciences and Distinguished Teaching Scholar at the University of Florida. His research interests are in the areas of active learning pedagogies, problem-solving, critical thinking, diversity in engineering, and qualitative methodologies.

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Paul G. Richardson

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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 a student. I am currently pursuing studies in anthropology.

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Francesca Dupuy University of Florida

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This work in progress paper examines the experiences of Black engineers working in the technology industry. Current data shows that technology companies (e.g. Google, Apple, Cisco, etc.) have low numbers of Black engineers, and there is increasing pressure on them to diversify their workforces. Diversity has been argued from a number of perspectives: changing workforce demographics leading to a shortage of engineers if diversity is not embraced; increased creativity stemming from more diverse teams; and utilizing social justice to provide opportunities for all. Diversity, that is increasing the numbers of people of color, is not sufficient. It has been demonstrated in a number of settings that creating a culture of inclusion is needed to realize the benefits of diversity. For example, studies of the experiences of women faculty shows that even when efforts are made to hire women to the professoriate there are cultural barriers for them to be promoted or even remain within the faculty ranks.

Our project is using a critical narrative perspective to understand the racialized experiences of Black engineers in technology companies. Our research question is: How do Black engineers navigate issues of power and privilege in their work experiences? Engineers with a variety of experiences are being interviewed. Interview questions include:

• Tell me about your experience when you entered your first job. What was the climate like for you? • Did those feelings change for you over the first year or two? In what ways? • Describe a particular event that stands out in your mind that illustrated the climate from when you first started working as an engineer.

To date five interviews have been conducted. Analysis is being done using critical narrative analysis. Narrative analysis takes people’s experiences and accounts of those experiences as being storied. Meaning is made through the stories one tells and how those stories are interpreted. Critical narrative examines these stories through an understanding of what they reveal regarding normative expectations and power. Stories are used to both explain and navigate issues of power in ways that allow people to make sense of and live in cultures of dominance.

Although analysis is in the early stages, one narrative illustrates how the dominant culture controls the discourse around diversity even while purporting to support it. One of the engineers described attending a large technology company’s Black network meetings, and finding it attended mostly by people from nontechnical divisions such as Human Resources. This engineer stated, “I could kind of see the trends of what was going on. Diversity was all focused on recruiting people from HBCUs to work in HR.” While there is a publically expressed desire to increase the company’s diversity, the way it is being done allows the dominant white culture to retain its power. As a result, this engineer “never felt connected with the Black [company employees]” and eventually left that company for a small start-up.

Through this project we intend to make the lived experiences of Black engineers visible. Results will be used to create illustrative stories that will be presented to senior officials in these companies as a means to reframe their thinking about diversity and inclusion.

Douglas, E. P., & Richardson, P. G., & Dupuy, F. (2017, June), Work In Progress: Racialized Experiences of Black Engineers Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--29176

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