Being a woman in STEM research is tough, but it’s significantly worse for women of color. According to a recent report conducted by the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, a whopping 100% of women of color interviewed in the study said they’ve experienced gender bias, compared to 93% of white women. Williams, 557 women overall were surveyed (white women and women of color), and 60 women of color participated in more in-depth interviews.
A United States Census Bureau report from 2013 showed that men were hired at twice the rate of women. Only about 6% of the STEM workforce was black, while 7% were Hispanic; about 41% of Asian-Americans with science or engineering degrees were employed in a STEM occupation, though the report did not specify gender.
Studies included in the report have shown that when math skills were identical, men were more likely to be hired for a job than women. Across the board, women with children were considered less competent and committed than their male peers.
In addition, one-third of the women surveyed by Williams experienced sexual harassment. However, the rate at which these women reported it varied greatly: 37.2% of white women, 25% of Asian-Americans, 21.9% of Latinas and 12.5% of black women. In some studies, women of color in general are more likely to be sexually harassed, Williams notes.
Though nearly two-thirds of all the women surveyed reported having to “prove” their competency, black women experienced the highest bias. About 76.9% of black women experienced this, versus 64.5% of Latinas, 63.6% of Asian-Americans and 62.7% of white women. As a result, mistakes are “more costly” for black women, Williams says.
Another persistent issue was the stereotype that black women are more masculine than other women. In that regard, they didn’t face as much pushback for self-promotion than other groups (30.4% compared to 31.3% of Latinas, 48.8% of Asian-Americans and 37.3% of white women).
Despite the persistent stereotypes of Asians being “good” at science, Asian-American women faced more “Prove-It-Again” bias than white women. The report found, in this respect, that Asian-American women’s experiences in STEM were shaped more so by negative gender stereotypes about women than negative stereotypes about Asians.
One of the most damaging forms of bias Asian-American women faced was backlash for “stereotypically masculine behaviors” like being assertive and promoting themselves. When these women had children, 26.7% of them reported that colleagues suggested they work fewer hours, more so than any other group. One immunologist said people think Asian-American women are more caring and will “give up their professions for their children.”
More than any other group in the report, 59.4% of Latina women felt they could not express anger at work. They could easily be discredited as too emotional, even in instances where they weren’t angry. Simply not being deferential triggered negative stereotypes for these women. One environmental engineer said her co-workers were “afraid that I’m just going to start crying or that I’m just going to get really mad.”
Within the report’s survey, Latina women did not report expectations of “traditionally feminine roles.” However, in the interview portion, they shared disproportionate experiences of being assigned housework or administrative work. One clinical scientist reported getting treated literally like an administrative assistant, being asked to set up meetings, or make sure everyone fills out paperwork.
The unfortunate lack of women in STEM research can occasionally make women feel competitive with one another, the report finds, though it varies between groups. With fewer hiring opportunities than men, women see each other as rivals. The environment can become negative, harming the potential progress they could make in their field — which is why employers need to step up and intervene.
Williams outlines clear examples, such as creating structured ways candidates can provide feedback about bias, buildling a climate that encourages self-promotion and monitoring imbalances between male and female employees doing office housework or administrative work. Read more…