A Unicorn's Tale: Examining the Experiences of Black Women in Engineering Industry

Monique S Ross, Purdue University


Black women have recently been identified as the most educated demographic in the United States, and yet they are grossly underrepresented in engineering. They comprise 6.4 % of the U.S. population and only 0.72 % of engineering industry. Meanwhile, engineers have been identified as the key to the United States’ ability to maintain its prominence and leadership in a competitive global economy due to their contribution to maintaining and improving our infrastructures and standard of living. This significance to society has spawned national initiatives geared towards broadening participation in engineering. This research study was designed to explore the experiences of nine Black women engineers that have remained engaged in engineering for greater than ten years in order to better understand the factors that have contributed to their retention in the engineering workplace. This interpretative phenomenological analysis guided by social identity theory and intersectionality answers four research questions: How do Black women negotiate and make meaning of their engineering experiences? How do Black women develop and sustain their engineering identity throughout their engineering careers? What is the relationship between Black women’s engineering identities and racial, ethnic, and gender identities? What effect do (these potentially) competing identities have on Black women’s retention in the engineering workplace? The results of this study not only confirm the influence identity has on retention of Black women engineers but also reveals the implications of self-awareness (knowing who they were), agency (remaining true to that self), social-integration (surrounding themselves with affirming relationships), and activism (lifting others along the way).




Godwin, Purdue University.

Subject Area

African American Studies|Engineering

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