Nascent Professional Identity Development in Freshman Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) Women
Increasing the persistence of talented women into male-dominated architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) professions could reduce prevailing workforce shortages and improve gender diversity in AEC industry. Identity theorists advocate that professional identity development (PID) improves students’ persistence to become professionals. However, little empirical research exists to inform and guide AEC educators and professionals on AEC-PID in undergraduate AEC women. As the preliminary part of a larger nationwide and longitudinal research study investigating PID processes in undergraduate AEC women, the objective of this research is to examine the characteristics and nascent AEC-PID in 69 women enrolled in freshman AEC courses in five U.S. institutions. A purposive sampling approach ensures participants have a wide range of demographic characteristics. Data from a recruitment survey is analyzed using the NVivo qualitative data analysis software. Content and relational inductive open coding are conducted vertically for each participant and horizontally across different participants.
Results indicate passion/interest, inherent abilities, significant others, benefits from industry, and desire to contribute to industry influence decisions to pursue AEC careers. With 52% of participants having science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) subject preferences, an in vivo code, Perfect Middle Ground, demonstrated the quest to combine STEM and visual art preferences in AEC career decisions. A participant noted that ‘this major (civil engineering) is the perfect middle ground because I can be creative, but still use my strong gift which happens to be math’. Girls with STEAM strengths and passion, particularly in math and fine art, are most likely to develop nascent AEC-PID. Beyond STEM pre-college programs, AEC educators should consider recruiting from sports, as well as visual and performing arts events for pre-college students. Participants’ positive views focus on the importance and significant societal impact of the AEC industry; while, negative views focus on the lack of gender and racial diversity. A combination of participants’ AEC professional experiences and views reveal four increasing levels of nascent AEC-PID which are categorized as the 4Ps: Plain, Passive, Progressive, and Proactive. As a guide to AEC education and professional communities, recommendations are made to increase the AEC-PID of women in each category. With the highest nascent AEC-PID, women in the Proactive category should serve as leaders in AEC classrooms and student organizations. Considering their AEC professional experience and enthusiasm, they should serve as peer mentors to other students, particularly AEC women. Furthermore, they should be given the opportunity to step into more complex roles during internships and encouraged to pursue co-op opportunities.
Insights can guide more targeted recruitment, mentoring, preparation, and retention interventions that strengthen the persistence of the next generation of AEC women professionals. In the long term, this could reduce AEC workforce shortages, improve gender diversity, and foster the innovation and development of more gender friendly AEC products and services.
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