Engineers' Perceptions of Diversity and the Learning Environment at Work: A Mixed Methods Study

Open Access
Firestone, Brenda L
Graduate Program:
Adult Education
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
February 27, 2012
Committee Members:
  • Elizabeth Jean Tisdell, Dissertation Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • Elizabeth Jean Tisdell, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • Edward W Taylor, Committee Member
  • Barbara A Sims, Committee Member
  • Katherine H Baker, Committee Member
  • Engineer
  • Engineering
  • Workplace
  • Learning
  • Diversity
  • Culture
  • Adult Education
  • Feminist
  • Mixed Methods
  • Critical
The purpose of this dissertation research study was to investigate engineers’ perceptions of diversity and the workplace learning environment surrounding diversity education efforts in engineering occupations. The study made use of a mixed methods methodology and was theoretically framed using a critical feminist adult education lens and organizational diversity theory. As such particular attention was paid to gender, race and age in the data collection and findings. A culture climate instrument was developed, seven factors that relate to diversity climate were identified and the questions for each theoretical dimension were tested for scale reliability. The culture climate survey collected data from a random sample of engineers designated as professional engineers (PEs) in Pennsylvania. Findings confirm the extreme underrepresentation of engineers of color; 94 % of the random sample consisted of White engineers. Although women were also underrepresented, a stratified sampling technique resulted in women representing 45% of the sample. Findings indicate that overall these engineers have favorable perceptions of the engineering culture climate. Female engineers’ perceptions, while still favorable, are less favorable than their male counterparts. Gender is a significant predictor of perceptions for the culture climate indices while age is a predictor for some of the indices. Qualitative data were collected by semi-structured interviews from a purposefully selected sample of eight female engineers that included two women of color. While confirming some of the traditional barriers for women in engineering such as the need to prove themselves as competent engineers, they indicate that there are engineering worksites that are flexible and meet their family needs, but they did perceive differential treatment based on gender, race and age. Other qualitative findings include an unsubstantiated and for the most part disputed by female engineers, meta narrative that engineering is an occupation that is not subject to racial or gender prejudice. The study concludes that engineering could benefit from an understanding of critical adult education and diversity theory including the concept of subjectivity in knowledge, perceptions and learning.