Women and Minorities in STEM Face More Bias, But White Men Think They’re the Victims

A lack of good STEM education may be to blame.

White men think Silicon Valley looks like this… Pixabay

Former Google engineer James Damore, who wrote the infamous “Google Memo,” made headlines this week when he sued the tech giant, claiming it discriminates against white male conservatives.

But according to a new study from the Pew Research Center, that demographic faces very little discrimination compared to other women and minority groups in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions.

While the study was conducted before the recent string of sexual misconduct stories involving powerful men, it still paints a grim picture of diversity in STEM and may help explain why many women and minorities leave the field.

“The workplace is a different, sometimes more hostile environment,” the study begins. “Discrimination and sexual harassment are seen as more frequent, and gender is perceived as more of an impediment than an advantage to career success.”

Almost 5,000 adults took part in the survey, including more than 2,300 STEM workers.

Groups most likely to see inequities in the workplace included women in STEM settings where men outnumbered women, women in computer jobs and women with postgraduate degrees. A majority of each of these groups experienced gender discrimination at work, according to Pew.

The most common forms of gender discrimination experienced by women in STEM included earning less than a man doing the same job (29 percent), experiencing repeated slights in their workplace (20 percent) and receiving less support from senior leaders than a man who was doing the same job (18 percent).

Many women in STEM positions work in majority-female workplaces (55 percent) or work with an even mix of both genders (25 percent). But the 19 percent of women who work with mostly men experienced more discrimination.

About 78 percent of these women say they were subject to gender discrimination in the workplace, compared with 44 percent of STEM women in general. And nearly half of women in mostly male STEM settings say their gender has made it harder for them to succeed at work, compared with just 14 percent of other women in STEM.

“People automatically assume I am the secretary, or in a less technical role because I am female,” one respondent wrote. “This makes it difficult for me to build a technical network to get my work done. People will call on my male co-workers, but not call on me.”

The disparities are actually worse for women with more education. About 62 percent of women with post-grad degrees say they have experienced gender discrimination, compared to 41 percent of general workers.

Plenty of men similar to Google’s Damore also work in STEM fields. They said in the study that “nothing is given” to white males anymore. They claimed they were an “undesirable classification” subject to “reverse discrimination.” One even said that “the white male is the enemy.”

…but it actually looks like this. HBO

In fact, the opposite is true: while the amount of STEM jobs has grown substantially since 1990, the amount of women in these fields has remained the same. Some jobs have more women than others—95 percent of dental hygienists are female, compared to only eight percent of mechanical engineers.

These inequities are particularly pronounced in computer science fields.

While the amount of jobs in that area has grown over 300 percent since 1990, the concentration of women in the field has actually decreased from 32 percent to 25 percent. Nearly three-quarters of women in tech say they’ve experienced heightened gender discrimination, and less than half think they are treated fairly when considered for promotions.

Even before the “Silence Breakers” made headlines for reporting sexual harassment, 22 percent of women in this study reported being sexually harassed. About 36 percent of women said harassment was a problem in their workplace, but the percentage was higher in majority male workplaces (48 percent) and computer-based jobs (42 percent).

Different ethnic groups also struggle in STEM fields.

Blacks make up only nine percent of workers in STEM fields compared to 11 percent of the total U.S. workforce, while Hispanics hold seven percent of STEM jobs compared to 16 percent in other fields. Asians are actually over-represented in STEM fields, holding up 17 percent of jobs compared to 10 percent of positions elsewhere.

These racial disparities inevitably lead to discrimination. Blacks (22 percent), Asians (44 percent) and Hispanics (42 percent) all said they were treated as if they were incompetent because of their race or ethnicity. They also believed their race counted against them when being considered for promotions—72 percent of blacks believed this, compared to 43 percent of Hispanics and 28 percent of Asians.

An information vacuum could be to blame for these disparities: the Computing Technology Industry Association reports that 69 percent of women who don’t pursue technology careers make that choice because they don’t know what options are available to them.

As such, many people quoted in the study believe K-12 education needs to to a better job educating all genders and ethnic groups about these positions.

“Teachers need to be explicit about the need for more women in STEM jobs and help girls feel that they have a reason to pursue these fields in spite of the somewhat intimidating gender breakdown of higher level classes,” one female respondent wrote.

“Providing opportunities such as putting upgraded computers and/or science labs in inner-city schools, libraries and community centers,” one black study participant suggested.

The Girl Scouts have already started educating their members about STEM jobs. The youth organization recently added 23 merit badges in fields like coding, robotics and cybersecurity.

Women and Minorities in STEM Face More Bias, But White Men Think They’re the Victims