A new report highlights the reprehensible state of women working in STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics— where they’re not only under represented, but also under constant pressure to over perform. The report also stresses how sexism and racism is “still a thing” in labs, universities and technology companies. In fact, there’s seems to be an entrenched thinking that women don’t have any place in a scientific institution, how else could you explain that almost half of Black and Latina women working as scientists have been mistaken for a janitor or an administrator of their offices?
As one Latina statistician told researchers, “I always amuse my friends with my janitor stories, but it has happened not only at weird hours.” She calmly informed someone that she had the key to the office, not the janitor’s closet.
The report, called “Double Jeopardy: Gender Bias Against Women of Color in Science,” was released by the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, which surveyed 500 female scientists and conducted in-depth interviews with 60 more.
Everybody knows there’s a wide STEM gender gap, with women out numbered three to one. The problem starts as early as grade school. Young girls are rarely encouraged to pursue math and science, which is problematic considering studies show a lack of belief in intellectual growth can actually inhibit it. In addition, there exists an unconscious bias that science and math are typically “male” fields while humanities and arts are primarily “female” fields, and these stereotypes further inhibit girls’ likelihood of cultivating an interest in math and science. This is conventional thinking of course. It’s true, but only half the story. What isn’t mentioned is the hostile and discouraging environment that many women face in male-dominated classrooms, offices, and labs. Of the 60 scientists interviewed in the report, 100 percent reported that they had experienced gender discrimination during their careers. STEM women are also under constant fire to prove themselves; 75 percent of the African-American women scientists surveyed reported having to prove their intelligence over and over again.
These are the four distinct and pervasive patterns of discrimination across STEM careers:
1. Prove It Again: Women often have to provide more evidence of being competent to be treated as equally capable as men. Even then, one study found that when a man and a woman had equal math skills, 90 percent of the time, employers would choose to hire the man.
2. The Tightrope: Women find themselves walking a fine line between being seen as “too feminine to be competent” and “too masculine to be likable.” Half of all the women interviewed said they experienced backlash for being assertive. Latina women in STEM fields are especially likely to say that their coworkers accuse them of being “angry.”
3. The Maternal Wall: Women working in STEM fields face the assumption from their colleagues that their commitment to their work will fade if they have kids. On the other hand, many women without kids report being expected to work longer hours because they aren’t raising children.
4. Tug of War: Women who experience gender bias early in their careers are more likely to distance themselves from women. The researchers call this the “queen bee” effect.
Sarah Mirk, a writer for Bitchmedia thinks the lack of women—and especially women of color—in labs, computer-science jobs, and math careers across the country is symptomatic of deep racism and sexism in our culture. “In order to help the number of female scientists grow, we need to get to a point where none of them are routinely mistaken for janitors,” she goes on to say. I think we all can agree to that.
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