[STUDY] Women of Color in STEM Discriminated Against in the Workplace

Harvard Business Review finds key factors that push women away from STEM careers

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A study released by Harvard Business Review shows that when it comes to fields in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), women of color are discriminated against the most in the workplace.

Working with the Association of Women in Sciences, the study’s authors Joan C. Williams, Katherine W. Phillips and Erika V. Hall, surveyed 557 female scientist and interviewed 60 of them to gain insight into how bias and discrimination impacts them on a daily basis. Results from the study show that the shortage of women working in STEM isn’t solely due to a lack of women interested in the field, but also due to five key factors that push women out of pursuing STEM careers.

See the five biases below, which Harvard Business Review says keep women, especially women of color, from working in STEM-related fields.

[Related: Howard University Presents Woman in STEM Researcher of the Year Award]

1. Having to repeatedly prove their competence: Two-thirds of the women interviewed and two-thirds of the women surveyed reported having to prove themselves over and over again in the workplace. For black women, this number was the highest, with 77 percent saying they have to provide more evidence of competence than their peers.

2. Being feminine enough: The study revealed that many women found themselves walking on a tightrope between being seen as too feminine to be competent and too masculine to be likable. The black and Latino women surveyed said they were particularly at risk for being seen as too angry when they refused to reform to the restrictive norms of the industry.

3. Having their commitment questioned when they become mothers: Nearly two-thirds of the scientists surveyed said they faced questioning about their competence and commitment to the job after becoming mothers and also experienced a slow up in opportunities afforded to them.

4. Constantly feeling pit against their female colleagues: The study showed that women encountered discrimination early in their careers that often caused them to distance themselves from their female co-workers. About a fifth of the women surveyed said they felt like they were competing with their female colleagues for the “woman’s spot.”

5. Isolation: Based off the study results, 42 percent of black women agreed that socially engaging with colleagues would negatively affect perceptions of their competence. In some cases, the women surveyed said they intentionally keep their personal lives hidden in order to maintain their authority.