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"Don't Stop Me Now!": The Perseverance of Women of Color in Aerospace Careers during the 70s through 90s (Arbeitstitel)

Throughout U.S. history, Women of Color (WOC) have been severely underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics  (STEM) workforce. It was President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who in 1941 would open the door for WOC as he signed Executive Order 8802, the "Fair Employment Practice in Defense Industries."While in a racially segregated country, this great decision prohibited racial discrimination in hiring and resulted in the recruitment of minorities in federal positions. Katherine G. Johnson, a mastermind mathematician, was selected and became one of the first Black women to work as a computer scientist for NASA's Langley Research Center. Her calculations were critical for the most significant achievement of U.S. aerospace: the three orbits of John Glenn  round the Earth. She and many others would pave the way for other WOC to pursue and persist in STEM careers and aerospace domains when such occupations did not consider women. Executive Order 8802 serves as an example that policy changes are essential for deconstructing sexist and racial barriers within institutions. Nowadays, institutions and professional organizations have long encouraged, developed, and implemented diversity and inclusion strategies to fight sexism and racism in the workplace. However, few studies focus on institutional policies and the efforts of professional organizations to maintain and support WOC in the aerospace workforce from the 70s until the 90s.

The Ph.D.project will then focus on the persistence of WOC to achieve and maintain leadership  positions in aerospace careers during the 70s through the 90s. The overreaching research question guiding this study is: to what extent did structural support from aerospace institutions, such as NASA's Langley Research Center, played a role in  the success stories of WOC in aerospace careers from the 70s to the 90s? From  his question, several follow-up questions will be investigated: What were the experiences of those who did persist in the aerospace career? What type of challenges did these women face in their early careers? How did  they overcome these challenges? What type of support from the institution was most impactful to these women? In my research, I intend to answer these questions through a qualitative mixed method based on archival material analysis and expert interviews. First, the archival examination will consist of any documents related to anti-discrimination policies, internal events promoting inclusion and diversity, and professional development programsfrom NASA's Langley Research Center. Second,to investigate the success of these institutional strategies for the advancement  of WOC, expert interviews will be conducted with WOC. These will serve as a tool to understand the struggles these women endured and conquer to achieve leadership positions during the 70s, 80s,and 90s.