Disaggregating the Monolith: A Case Study on Varied Engineering Career Orientations  and Strategies of Black Women in Tech

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Virginia Tech

Diversifying the engineering workforce has been a national imperative for several decades. The increased participation of Black students in engineering is commonly identified as a crucial area for improvement. Yet, the rates of engineering degree completion are slowing for Black women in particular. In 2015, less than one percent of all U.S. engineering bachelor's degrees were awarded to Black women. To support broadening participation efforts, I use an anti-deficit approach to examine the career orientations and mobility patterns of Black women working in computing and engineering roles in the tech industry. By characterizing the different career motivations, strategies, and points of transition in the careers of a diverse sample of Black women, I sought to disaggregate the Black women's engineering and computing career experiences—particularly as it relates to how and why they move into, around and out of roles in the tech industry. Using a qualitative multi-case study, I conducted a multi-level career mobility analysis on secondary data and user-generated social media artifacts to extend theory on career orientations and talent management to help normalize "non-traditional" career trajectories. The study findings are useful to inform the next generation of Black women interested in tech on the different ways to approach and achieve subjective career success and satisfaction in engineering and computing fields. In this dissertation work, I discuss how the varied insights of Black women's career experiences in tech can be leveraged for practitioners and industry leaders to broaden the participation (e.g., to attract, retain and better support) of students and employees by identifying their career orientations and then using that to inform career preparation and development that aligns with different engineering and computing career outlooks.

Career Mobility, Black Women, Engineering, Technology, Broadening Participation, Talent Management, Workforce Diversity