Ready or Not: A Narrative Study Examining the Preparation Experiences of Black Women Engineers for the Raced and Gendered Engineering Workplace
Black women make up 1.3% of undergraduate engineering students, 1% of bachelor’s engineering degrees awarded, and 0.6% of employed engineers. The magnitude of underrepresentation of Black women is strongly evident given the juxtaposition between these statistics and the percentage of Black women within the U.S. population. This underrepresentation of Black women in engineering exemplifies serious equity concerns involving the quality of women’s experiences in education and employment systems. The issues related to representation and retention in engineering among Black women signify that professional engineering environments that can be characterized by raced and gendered practices; practices that should be changed if engineering desires to be a more inclusive space for Black women. This reality brings up the question of whether undergraduate engineering education programs prepare Black women for the workplace and the extent to which their preparation process accounts for the raced and gendered challenges. This study examines the undergraduate preparation experiences of ten Black women engineers, exploring the challenges they have experienced that are associated with the raced and gendered culture of the engineering workplace. The goal of this study is to consider how undergraduate engineering education can better meet the needs of Black women so that they can successfully navigate the raced and gendered culture of engineering. Grounded in critical race feminism, this study leveraged narrative inquiry and counter-storytelling to address the following research question: How do Black women engineers describe their preparation to navigate the challenges in the engineering workplace associated with the raced and gendered culture of engineering? Findings from this study indicate that the formal curriculum of undergraduate engineering programs did not prepare Black women engineers for the raced and gendered culture of engineering. However, co-curricular activities, situated learning experiences, faith and spirituality, knowledge gained from graduate coursework, and the subsequent community cultural wealth gained from those experiences were instrumental in the preparation of Black women engineers for the raced and gendered culture of engineering. Two major implications of this work prompt the need for an ecosystems approach to change the culture of engineering and a formal preparation process for the raced and gendered culture of engineering.