This paper is a work in progress (WIP) assessing how engineers view aspects of the workplace culture affecting the extent to which they can authentically be themselves. We also assess how engineers describe the manifestation of racist ideas in their workplace. While considerable effort has been made to change the demographics of engineering, the profession still lacks diversity. White males are persistently the majority within engineering, which defines the culture of the field. This potentially causes Black individuals to mask aspects of their identity in order to assimilate into the dominant workplace culture. It is important to bring more awareness to racial diversity issues in workplaces. In this study, data were collected through interviews from three different engineers working within the same company in order to explore workplace conditions. The participants were one Black male, and two White males.
Two frameworks were utilized for the investigation of in/authentic experiences and the manifestation of racist ideas. We used an extension of Wendy Faulkner’s (2009) concept of in/authenticity, which describes how women in engineering may have experiences that are either authentic or inauthentic to their personal identities. We shifted this lens towards racialized experiences in addition to gendered experiences and focused on Black engineers. We also used a framework derived from Kendi’s (2016) history of racist ideas in the U.S.. We employed this framework to examine structural racism in the workplace. Kendi describes three stances on race: segregationists, antiracists, and assimilationists. He also points to moments of advantage and disadvantage taken by individuals. We used these personas and moments to investigate their effects on the experiences of Black engineers.
This paper documents findings from pilot data collected for a larger project. Initial analysis of the pilot data using the two frameworks allowed us to identify individual and structural acts of racism in the engineering workplace of the company where the three participants work. With regard to in/authenticity, the White engineers saw no distinction between their personal and work identities. They saw the company’s values aligning with their personal values, and the workplace as being open and comfortable. In contrast, the Black engineer described taking on different identities in business settings and one-on-one interactions. In business settings, he felt the need to be a “commanding force”. In one-on-one settings he allowed himself to be “open… free flowing” and bring in “a more wide range of emotions” to interactions. Several points of structural racism were identified including lack of attention to racial diversity while hiring, lack of diversity in the workplace, and colorblind attitudes. For example, the Black engineer noted his lack of advancement within the company, with reasons being “people not having the opportunity to know me”, while White engineers expressed a colorblind approach, insisting that race has no place in selecting leaders. All participants saw the advantage of diversity, yet little action was being taken to improve diversity in their company. With this project we intend to bring light to the experiences of Black engineers, and to make industry stakeholders more explicitly aware of diversity issues.
Faulkner, W. (2009). Doing gender in engineering workplace cultures. II. Gender in/authenticity and the in/visibility paradox. Engineering Studies, 1(3), 169-189.
Kendi, I. X. (2016). Stamped from the beginning: The definitive history of racist ideas in America. New York: Nation Books.
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