Engineering's Diversity Challenge
Engineering is a job with many advantages: good pay, intellectual stimulation and in some cases the chance to do some real good in the world through advances in science and technology.
It stands to reason, then, that many leaders in the scientific and business community want the engineering field to be as diverse as possible -- not only so that people of many backgrounds can reap the benefits, but also so that they can help boost America's competitiveness in key industries.
But as in other scientific and technical fields, diversity is a continuing challenge in engineering. That's true for the workforce -- and for a significant population of job-seekers, according to a recent survey. CareerBuilder.com polled 2.7 million job applicants from January 2009 through September 2011. Of those surveyed, 64,392 people applied for jobs in engineering.
Sixty-seven percent of engineering applicants were white, compared to 61 percent of the larger pool of job seekers. Asians were a relatively small percentage of the whole, but were nonetheless slightly overrepresented among engineers: they made up 11 percent of engineering applicants and 5 percent of overall applicants.
Some minority applicants were significantly underrepresented. For example, 11 percent of engineering applicants were African American, compared to 21 percent of the general pool. The disparity virtually disappeared for Hispanic/Latinos: they made up 8 percent of engineering applicants and 9 percent of applicants overall. Native Americans made up 1 percent of both categories.
These findings vary somewhat compared to other large-scale studies of minorities in engineering, but the general thrust is the same. Every two years, the National Science Foundation releases a report on the status of underrepresented minorities in scientific fields, which shows that while minorities have been making small but steady inroads, the engineering profession still isn't as diverse as it could be.
The 2011 edition of the report, titled "Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering," shows that the percentage of engineering bachelor's degrees awarded to minorities has risen steadily in recent years. In 1989, for example, it was 7.2 percent. By 2008 it was 12.4 percent, down slightly from a peak of 12.6 percent in 2000.
But minorities still have a long way to go, especially African Americans, Latinos and American Indians/Alaska Natives, according to the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, which produced a study in 2008 called "Confronting the 'New' American Dilemma: Underrepresented Minorities in Engineering: a Data-Based Look at Diversity."
Its authors, who draw on National Science Foundation data for some of their findings, write that "progress has been marginal, neither steady enough nor substantial enough for the representation of minorities to approach parity with their presence in the U.S. population. And, even more disheartening, new barriers are being erected that will make it even more difficult to tap this source of talent."
They noted that even though Latinos accounted for just over 13 percent of the labor force, they made up only 5.8 percent of the engineering workforce. A 2011 research brief from the same organization found that African Americans represent only 5 percent of the nation's engineering workforce, but make up 12 percent of the American workforce as a whole. African Americans who were employed in the engineering field were less likely to be managers and more likely to be technicians (who generally have less responsibility and a lower level of educational attainment).
Copyright 2012 Sologig