Research literature on women of color in undergraduate engineering education: A systematic thematic synthesis

Maria Ong, Nuria Jaumot-Pascual, and Lily T. Ko


Background: To address social disparities and generate an innovative workforce, engineering higher education should provide learning environments that benefit students from all backgrounds. However, because engineering programs are not enrolling or retaining women of color at demographic parity, a better understanding of these students’ experiences is needed to develop effective interventions.
Purpose: This study analyzes research on women of color in undergraduate engineering education to determine what influences their experiences, participation, and advancement. We identify challenges to and strategies for persistence and present recommendations for engineering institutions to create interventions that support women of color and mitigate institutional inequities.
Scope/Method: Using the snowballing method, we identified 65 empirical studies published between 1999 and 2015 that met the criteria for this review. These studies represented qualitative, mixed-methods, and quantitative methodologies from various fields. We conducted a systematic thematic synthesis, informed by frames of intersectionality, critical race theory, and community cultural wealth.
Conclusions: Women of color use navigational strategies to address the social pain of race and gender inequity in engineering education. Institutions should take responsibility for generating a sense of belonging for women of color and provide social and structural supports that increase self-efficacy, address social pain, and improve retention.