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NSF Issues Updated Minorities Report

Undergraduate engineering female student
The percentage of undergraduate engineering students who are women declined from 19.8 percent in 1999 to 17.9 percent in 2009, according to a new report by the National Science Foundation. Associated Press

A new report by the National Science Foundation includes a wealth of data detailing the participation of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in science and engineering.

March 26, 2013—Women, minorities, and persons with disabilities continue to be underrepresented in the science and engineering professions according to a data-intensive biennial report issued recently by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The report, Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, is mandated by the Science and Engineering Equal Opportunities Act (Public Law 96-516). NSF examines data from a variety of sources and also conducts surveys to compile the report.

“Women, persons with disabilities, and three racial/ethnic groups—blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians—are considered underrepresented in science and engineering (S&E) because they constitute smaller percentages of science and engineering degree recipients and of employed scientists and engineers than they do of the population,” the report states. The full report contains 241 pages of data tables that provide an encompassing picture of the issue.

A little more than 10 percent of college freshmen reported the intention to major in engineering. That number included 4 percent of female freshmen and 17.9 percent of male freshmen. That disparity is just as stark when looking at S&E in general: the numbers are 33.3 percent of the female freshmen and 44.1 percent of the males.

Nearly half of Asian freshmen intended to major in an S&E field, 14.7 percent stating a preference for engineering. That compares with 10.5 percent of white freshmen who choose engineering, 9.3 percent of Hispanic freshmen, 7.4 percent of African American freshmen, and 5.6 percent of Native American freshmen. The pronounced gender gap was seen in all groups.

The percentage of undergraduate engineering students who are women has declined from 19.8 percent in 1999 to 17.9 percent in 2009, the last year for which data were available. The percentage of undergraduate engineering students who are African American steadily declined from 7 percent to 5.4 percent in the same 10-year period, while the percentage of Hispanic students increased from 8.1 percent to 10.1 percent.

Within engineering, civil engineering attracts a higher percentage of Hispanic and women students than most engineering disciplines, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Constance V.A. Thompson, CCDP, the senior manager, diversity, at ASCE, attributes this in part to the wide range of specialties within civil engineering and ASCE’s long-standing strategic partnerships with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), Society of Women Engineers (SWE), The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and the Women in Engineering Proactive Network (WEPAN). “Through these strategic partners, we have the opportunity to connect with, develop, and create relationships with these students that inspire them to stay the course in their studies and become lifelong members of the civil engineering community,” she says.

“Within the engineering community, ASCE is considered a leader in diversity and inclusion,” says Thompson. “Our governance and staff have consistently served on leading engineering community consortiums, provided thought leadership, and authored publications focused on actively addressing the issues of developing, retaining, and recruiting underrepresented populations into engineering.”

Unemployment rates are higher for minority scientists and engineers. While the unemployment rate for white scientists and engineers was approximately 3.5 percent in 2010—the last year for which data were available—the rate was closer to 6.5 percent for those in underrepresented minorities (African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans).

The unemployment rate for Asians in science and engineering, unlike other groups, reveals a pronounced gender disparity. Approximately 4.7 percent of Asian men in S&E were unemployed in 2010, compared with approximately 7.3 percent of Asian women.

White women were mostly likely to report working part time, according to the NSF report. Women in all groups were more likely than men to report not working or working part time because of family responsibilities.

Engineering represents one of the least common professions for both women and African Americans in the workforce. Women represent approximately 11 percent of the engineering workforce. African Americans represent nearly 5 percent. The profession is more popular among Hispanics in the workforce, fitting in between physician and scientist at nearly 6 percent.

“Estimates of the proportion of the population with disabilities vary depending on the definition of the term ‘disability,’” the report notes. “According to the Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey, 12 percent of the U.S. population has some disability.”

The percentage of the population with a disability increases with age, nearly 25 percent of those 65-74 years old having a disability. That number jumps to 50 percent of those 75 and older. Scientists and engineers with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed, according to the report. Approximately 30 percent have left the workforce. Of those unemployed, the vast majority attribute the cause to either permanent disability or retirement.



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