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Report: Racial Equity Still Far Off in Engineering Field

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Wednesday, June 9, 2021   

PORTLAND, Ore. - At its current pace, racial equity in the field of engineering will take generations to achieve, according to a new report.

A Georgetown University report found Black and Latinx engineers represent just 14% of people in those sought-after occupations. At the rate it's going, it will take 76 years to diversify this field in line with national representation.

J'Reyesha Brannon, a senior engineering associate with the City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services, is the only Black woman working as an engineer for the city.

"It's not fun not being able to see yourself in the field. It makes you feel like you don't always belong, sometimes," she said. "So I'd like to see more, and I work really hard to recruit to get more Black and Brown engineers in this workforce."

Engineering careers also are dominated by men. In 2019, 16% of engineers were women - and that's only up one percentage point from a decade earlier.

The engineering field offers high-paying careers, with 25% of people holding bachelor's degrees in engineering earning more than bachelor's-degree recipients overall. However, Brannon said retention in the field also is an issue, so it's important to focus on making workplaces more inviting.

"I've noticed a lot of engineers being disappointed in that they are not feeling content with the career because we have very multi-faceted personalities," she said. "A lot of the engineers I know who are leaving the field have creative pathways. We need to do a better job of really showing what these careers entail."

Brannon, who also is vice president of the Portland chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, said the organization focuses on increasing the pipeline of Black youths who want to enter this career.

"There's a representation issue right now, where there's not enough young children seeing that engineering is even an option," she said. "So, there needs to be more of that, with us engineers who are in the field going out to the community and showing youth that this is an opportunity."

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Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.


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