February 26, 2018
The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) conducted a joint study of women engineers of color in early career to determine areas where professional engineering associations can better support women of color as they transition from college into the workforce. Both SWE and NSBE are focused on diversifying the engineering profession, and both want to ensure that the needs of this subpopulation of engineers are encouraged to stay in the engineering workforce.
This qualitative study included interviews with 31 women of color who had earned their engineering baccalaureate degrees between 2011 and 2015, and had at least one year of experience as employed engineers. Asian, Black, Hispanic, and Native American women were included in the sample, representing 10 different engineering disciplines. Researchers sought to understand the challenges they faced early in their career, the strategies they used to overcome those challenges, and the types of external supports they found most helpful to them during their job search and the first years in the engineering workforce.
Among the challenges expressed by women in the study was the lack of role models for women of color in engineering, gender and racial biases encountered in the workplace, and a level of disillusionment regarding the level of impact that they would have as engineers. A number of women also indicated that they were dissatisfied with their salary and benefits. Over 60% stated that they had not negotiated salary when they were offered their first job after college, and even some of those who were initially satisfied with their job offers were later surprised to discover that they were receiving less than others at their level.
Women in this study relied on a strong network of family and friends, university supports, mentors, and colleagues to help them overcome many of the challenges they experienced early in their career. Many also stated that they were more self-confident and more comfortable speaking up at work than they were when they first started. While over 90% of the women interviewed were current members of a professional engineering association, there were a number of recommendations offered to help these organizations better support women engineers of color in those first years in the engineering workforce, including:
- Help women of color find mentors
- Better support women after a job relocation
- Accommodate women’s busy schedules and dispersed locations so they can maintain an active membership
- Increase diversity of organization’s leadership, particularly in age and background
- Diversify events and workshop topics
Roberta Rincon from SWE and Nicole Yates from NSBE will be presenting a paper based on this study at the American Educational Research Association’s annual conference in April 2018. You can read the report here.
Read more research about women in engineering on SWE’s Research site.