Towards an African Self-Conscious Role: The Case of Black Engineers in the Corporation
Claudia Boykins Mchunu
Thesis DT 3.5 1999 M44
xii, 158 leaves; 29 cm
This thesis explores why many of the needs of African communities remain unaddressed given the existence of willing and capable African professionals. The specific case considered herein, is that of African American engineers working for multinational corporations (MNC). The initial sample consisted of thirty African American engineers who demonstrated a willingness to address the needs of African communities as evidenced in their current and past organizational affiliations. This sample was further narrowed through the use of an African self-conscious (ASC) questionnaire. African self-consciousness is a measure of the degree to which an individual is focused on the survival and success of African people. The data analyzed consists of four taped open-ended dialogues with African American engineers who scored highest on the ASC questionnaire. These engineers are referred to ASC engineers.
The analysis shows that ASC engineers share significant similarities in their backgrounds and experiences. In their current employment situations, they feel alone, delinquent and futile. In an effort to address these feelings, they apply a variety of strategies including; maintaining old support networks, changing jobs frequently, searching for like-minded others, attempting to address community needs in a part-time capacity, and working, allegedly, in preparation to leave their current MNC employment.
The findings provide an understanding of the dilemma these African self-conscious individuals face. The findings also shed light on why these engineers have had little impact on addressing the needs of African communities. The key finding is that the extra-vocational activities ASC engineers are involved with, are actually counterproductive to social change and African community betterment when viewed from a systematic perspective. ASC engineers attempt to make an impact via project that must be carried out during non-working hours and negotiated around already challenging professional and personal responsibilities. The model created herein, shoes that this impossible scenario only adds to the frustration they already feel and in the long term, leads to cynicism and burn-out. The work that these individuals do, although arguably helpful in short-term, small ways, is in no way reflective of the kinds of systemic impact that would be possible with a more strategically organized effort.
Two recommendations arise from the findings of this thesis. Firstly, ASC engineers should minimize involvement in extra-vocational activities. In general they need to minimize all of the strategies that have minimal community impact and lead to burn-out, cynicism, and perpetual coping. Their extra-vocational efforts, although generally thought to be helping, are actually counterproductive. ASC engineers overextend themselves in short-term, poorly managed projects having minimal impact and then they retreat in the long-term.
The second recommendation arising from the thesis findings is that ASC engineers should focus their efforts on establishing their own independent operations. With independence comes the freedom to legitimately work on community-benefiting projects in a full-time capacity. ASC engineers should take advantage of the work arrangements that are emerging in the new Systems or Knowledge Age. These new work arrangements include, for example, the use of outside contractors to accomplish work that had formerly been done within an employer-employee relationship. ASC engineers should embrace these developments as opportunities to permanently leave MNC jobs and work independently. They should support each other in efforts to establish private consultancies and other structures that will afford them the freedom necessary to pursue work which benefits the African collective community in significant and sustainable ways.