Engineer Inclusion

Why do we need to reflect on positionality?

Unlocking the potential for inclusive education and work enviroments starts with self-awareness. This article highlights the vital role of positionality – the social and political context shaping our identities – in dismantling oppressive systems. By regularly reflecting on our positions of power and privilege, we pave the way for transformative change, fostering welcoming environments for everyone.

Who are you? What is positionality? Free download on how to write a positionality statement. Positionality is 1) the social and political context that creates your identity and 2) how your identity influences and biases your perception of and outlook on the world.

Systems are designed and upheld by people, thus, without the skill and practice of positionality, we may be unintentionally participating in and perpetuating systems that harm. Positionality is the social and political context that creates one’s identity and how one’s identity influences and biases one’s perception of and outlook on the world. 

Positionality is everpresent, affecting all aspects of our lives, including teaching, leading, policymaking, common interactions, and most notably, research – where the concept is most often prevalent. Secules et al [1] found that positionality impacts six fundamental aspects of research: research topic, epistemology, ontology, methodology, relation to participants, and communication, and make a case for positionality as a necessary aspect of engineering education research. However, positionality has far more reaching implications than research alone. 

Positionality is a reflexive exercise to examine who we are, and how we are situated within and thus participate within the systems. Simply put, it is an investigation of power, privilege, and position, or the lack thereof. [2] Ultimately, positionality involves a personal and collective effort to reveal the power relations between groups, acknowledging privilege or marginalization and making choices to reduce how power structures perform.

The Power of Positionality Reflection

What is your lens? What is positionality? Free download on how to write a positionality statement. Positionality is 1) the social and political context that creates your identity and 2) how your identity influences and biases your perception of and outlook on the world.To create welcoming environments, we must all regularly reflect on our positionality. The ongoing exercise of self-awareness in relation to positionality helps to reduce the ways in which we are complicit in power structures and systems of oppression. Thus positionality awareness works in tandem to support the practice of systems thinking. It is not a one-and-done exercise, but instead a journey of personal discovery of your identities, and then a regular internal prompting of how your identities are influencing and affecting your thoughts, decisions, or presence (how you show up in a space). To activate a new mindset that creates the kind of environments needed to yield future engineers, we propose creating cultures of engagement where positionality statements, reflections, and prompting reminders are the norm, and not the exception.


Free Resource!

Download our 26-page PDF with definitions and explanations of several social identities (race, gender, socioeconomic status, ability status, and sexuality) and a scaffolded exercise to help you examine your positionality.

What is Positionality? Craft your own positionality statement Worksheet

Explicit Examples from the Literature

Cadzow and Peters describe how their experiences as young, female, non-technical lecturers in a polytechnic engineering school distinctly and disturbingly vary from their male colleagues. [3]

In the 2022 book, Queering STEM Culture in US Higher Education: Navigating Experiences of Exclusion in the Academy, contributions from queer-identifying (this is positionality) students, faculty, practitioners, and administrators highlight prevailing issues of heteronormativity and marginalization (these are the systems) across a range of STEM disciplines. [4]

For example, if a researcher with no experience in, understanding of, or appreciation for qualitative research is reviewing a paper that used qualitative methodologies, their positionality as a strictly quantitatively trained researcher can negatively bias their evaluation, disregarding findings for a “lack of generalizability” when transferability by the reader is the actual goal. [5]

Responsible scholarship means acknowledging limitations, including our own positionality and gaps in expertise. Those of us who are experts in certain areas need to acknowledge our deficits in other areas and recognize both the expertise others have that we do not and the vital role of lived experience.

From Awareness to Action for Inclusive Environments

To create welcoming environments, we must regularly reflect on how social and political contexts create our identities, how those identities create power dynamics that must be carefully monitored and reduced, how privilege influences access and opportunity, and how we must make intentional choices to make space for those who have been traditionally marginalized and excluded in engineering. In response to power, privilege, and position, an earnest progression from awareness to action can yield an equitable and inclusive environment for all.


  1. Secules, S., McCall, C., Mejia, J. A., Beebe, C., Masters, A. S., Sánchez-Peña, M. L., & Svyantek, M. (2021). Positionality practices and dimensions of impact on equity research: A collaborative inquiry and call to the community. Journal of Engineering Education, 110(1), 19-43. https://doi.org/10.1002/jee.20377
  2. Learn more: https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/talking-about-race/topics/social-identities-and-systems-oppression 
  3.  Cadzow, H., & Peters, J. (2014) Dealing With Dicks: A Study of positionality as young, female lecturers in a male dominated classroom. 2014 Tertiary Education Research NZ (TERNZ) Conference held in Auckland, New Zealand.
  4. Cross, Kelly J., Stephanie Farrell, and Bryce Hughes, eds. Queering STEM Culture in US Higher Education: Navigating Experiences of Exclusion in the Academy. Routledge, 2022.
  5. Borrego, M., Douglas, E.P. and Amelink, C.T. (2009), Quantitative, Qualitative, and Mixed Research Methods in Engineering Education. Journal of Engineering Education, 98: 53-66. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2168-9830.2009.tb01005.
  6. Coley, B.C., Simmons, D.R. and Lord, S.M. (2021), Dissolving the margins: LEANING INto an antiracist review process. J Eng Educ, 110: 8-14. https://doi.org/10.1002/jee.20375
Headshot of Dr. Meagan Pollock

Meagan Pollock, PhD

Dr. Meagan Pollock envisions a world where personal and social circumstances are not obstacles to achieving potential, and where kindness, inclusivity, and conservation prevail.

An international speaker, teacher, engineer, and equity leader, her mission is to provide services, tools, and resources that inspire awareness and initiate action.

As an engineer turned educator, Meagan Pollock is focused on engineering equity into education and the workforce.

Leave a Reply

About EI

We help people intentionally and systematically engineer equity and inclusion into their organizations: driving positive outcomes and effectively supporting employees and the community.

Featured Content

Play Video about How to become an inclusive leader by Dr Meagan Pollock, Enginer Inclusion Founder, TEDx Talk Wolcott College Prep

This TEDx talk examines a four-part, iterative, reflective, and reflexive framework for developing into an inclusive leader.

Recent Q&A

Explore More Content


Follow Us

Can we Keep in touch?

Join our mailing list

Search our website