American Society for Civil Engineering
Patrick J. Natale, Executive Director
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) welcomes the opportunity to provide written testimony in support of the conference Seeking Solutions: Maximizing American Talent by Advancing Women of Color in Academia. As stewards of the nation’s infrastructure and leaders in building a better quality of life, we find this conference and its goals timely, if not well overdue, and core to the ability of our nation to innovatively build a workforce capable of addressing the urgent issue of rebuilding our nation’s aging and insufficient infrastructure to remain competitive in a global economy.
Over a decade ago, ASCE expanded its efforts to address the issue of underrepresentation in civil engineering with the creation of a Committee on Diversity & Women in Civil Engineering (CDWCE) and the establishment of a Diversity Programs office with a dedicated staff member. Recently renamed the Committee on Diversity & Inclusion (CDI), the committee is charged with leading the Society in all matters related to Diversity & Inclusion. CDI has taken a “broad stroke” approach to broadening the participation and retention of underrepresented talent in the civil engineering workforce. This is evidenced by ASCE’s policy statement on Diversity & Inclusion, several popular and noteworthy workforce-related publications (Changing our World and Diversity by Design), and a steady increase in the representation of women in both our membership and volunteer leadership. This can also be seen in our active and results-focused partnerships with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), Women in Engineering Proactive Network (WEPAN), the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE).
ASCE has proactively taken on leadership roles with the American Association of Engineering Societies (AAES) and the National Engineers Week Foundation, which have enabled us to facilitate collaboration across engineering disciplines and sectors to create and participate in global programs and initiatives that address the nation’s urgent workforce issue of underrepresentation in engineering. An example of a successful collaboration is the ASCE-led Extraordinary Women Engineers Coalition, which brought together more than 60 organizations to address the challenges of attracting academically-prepared young women to careers in engineering. The result of this effort was the widely recognized Engineer Your Life campaign.
THE CIVIL ENGINEERING LANDSCAPE
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, (in accordance with the BLS civil engineering Occupational Titles and definitions), 11 percent of all engineers identify as female, while 7 percent of all civil engineers identify as female. In the race/ethnicity categories, 19 percent of all engineers identify as Black or Other, while 16 percent of all civil engineers identify as Black or Other. When looking at anticipated growth, civil engineering outpaces almost all
other engineering disciplines and is expected to grow 24.3 percent by 2018, with the most growth anticipated in the Engineering Services arena.
According to the Engineering Workforce Commission (EWC), in 2010, 19.7 percent of all civil engineering degrees were awarded to women, in comparison to 18.2 percent of all engineering degrees awarded to women. The EWC also reports that over the past five years, civil engineering consistently awards more Master’s and doctoral degrees to women than any other engineering discipline, at 26 percent for each degree category, respectively. (Civil engineering outpaces all other engineering disciplines by 3 percent in the awarding of Master’s degrees and 4 percent in the awarding of Doctoral degrees.)
Of our 140,000 global members, 11 percent identify as female; of those, 4.4 percent identify as working in the academic sector and 4.2 percent identify as students.
OUR “NOT SO UNIQUE” DILEMMA
While ASCE takes great pride in our broad stroke accomplishments and the productive partnerships we have established with diversity-focused organizations, like other membership-based professional societies, our greatest challenge has been obtaining meaningful membership representation data. As a result we are unable to report complete quantitative data and draw meaningful conclusions related to the status of women of color in civil engineering. Specifically, the challenges we currently face are:
Difficulty in collecting up to date and complete member data: As a membership-based professional society, historically, our membership database and related data collection efforts have been primarily focused on capturing data directly related to our members’ professional and technical work. The systems we used previously provided limited demographic reporting and analysis capabilities, making the seemingly simple task of capturing and analyzing demographic data arduous. While our current system includes fields for robust demographic data, we have yet to build a sufficient data history to allow trend analysis.
Reluctance of our members to provide demographic data: Membership data is self-reported, allowing members to determine which information they choose to provide. As technical professionals concerned with the practice of civil engineering, we have found that our members prefer to be recognized for their technical and professional merits, rather than their gender and racial/ethnic identities. We have received candid feedback from our members in previous attempts to capture this data, expressing a wide range of objections to providing this information.
In an effort to address our challenge in obtaining demographic information from members, ASCE’s Membership Division has aligned the demographic data fields with those used by the US Census Bureau and, during the member renewal process, encourages members to update their member profiles inclusive of information such as their industry sector, professional designations, etc. Leaders within our Society units and professional practice committees have also begun their own efforts to encourage members to complete their full member profiles, as they have seen the value in being able to analyze the data to encourage strategic outreach,
research and professional development resources aimed at addressing issues of underrepresentation within the profession.
While ASCE will continue to partner with allied organizations in efforts to expand the number of individuals from underrepresented groups that enter the engineering profession, CDI recently adopted a strategic focus to target ASCE’s efforts on the retention (rather than recruitment) of women and those from underrepresented groups in the civil engineering pipeline and workforce. Within the past year, CDI has leveraged relationships with the EWC and the BLS to share baseline data with members, staff, and partners in an effort to raise awareness around the status of underrepresented talent within the civil engineering pipeline and workforce.
We plan to increase retention by supporting more career exploration and professional development initiatives with our diversity partners. Our strategy also calls for us to introduce leading civil engineering employers to successful programs like the National GEM Consortium’s GEM Fellowships, and leveraging webinars to share contemporary research similar to the 2011 report by Dr. Nadya Faoud and Dr. Romila Singh entitled Stemming The Tide: Why Women Leave Engineering and the recent WEPAN hosted webinar entitled Stereotype Threat-The Nature and Nurture of Intelligence, facilitated by an internationally recognized expert on the subject, Dr. Joshua Aronson.
The following are a few key recommendations that would support ASCE’s efforts to increase the career satisfaction of talent currently underrepresented in the civil engineering workforce:
• Increase the body of knowledge and related symposia around the unique ways that race, ethnicity, and gender intersect in the experiences of faculty and students, similar to those explored in original report authored by Dr. Shirley Malcolm The Double Bind: The Price of Being a Minority Woman in Science report and the 2009 CEOSE-sponsored Mini Symposium on Women of Color in STEM, focused on personal testimonies and proven interventions aimed at unraveling the double bind. We strongly recommend that a focus on proven interventions that increase retention are a crucial part of this body of knowledge.
• Encourage the active engagement of STEM professional societies and industry in support of policies and legislation similar to H.R. 4483, the “Broadening Participation in STEM Education Act.” This bill aims to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups who receive undergraduate degrees in STEM disciplines. It also seeks to increase the number of STEM faculty members from underrepresented groups at institutions of higher education.
• Leverage professional societies and academic leadership to conduct research aimed at identifying and promoting strategies that help students transition into professional practice.
At ASCE, we view engineering not about NOW, but NEXT, and consider the issue of underrepresentation in STEM a critical workforce issue that our nation must solve if we are to lead the world in innovation and thus sustained economic prosperity. We applaud the organizers of this and similarly focused symposia for your urgent, action-oriented and visionary approaches