Who Let the Women in STEM out?

New studies conducted on the lack of women in STEM fields, are trying to blow the cover off the “retention problem” in the field. And gender biases within the workplace are the culprit- they are shooing women out by the dozen.

STP Team
Mar 25, 2015 11:00 IST
Who Let the Women in STEM out?


New studies conducted on the lack of women in STEM fields, beg to differ on the classic pipeline problem debate, and are instead, trying to blow the cover off the “retention problem”. And gender biases within the workplace are the culprit- they are shooing women out by the dozen, says a Harvard Business Review article about the study.


The researchers who coined the study, Joan C. Williams, Kathrine W. Phillips and Erika V. Hall, found their basis from another 2012 randomized, double-blind study- where an individual was chosen to submit the same application twice under both, a male name and a female name. And- surprise surprise- his male self received a better evaluation.



This study with a 557 strong sample of female scientists, detected and confirmed five major biases that women, and especially women of colour, face at work.



Bias 1: Prove-it-Again:


“People just assume you’re not going to be able to cut it,” a statistician said, in a typical comment.


2/3rd of the women surveyed, admitted to being subjected to this treatment. In spite of their credentials and their success rate, women are asked to prove themselves being worthy of a task, a job, a project or a promotion over and over again. The incidence of this was higher among black women- with 3/4th of them reported this bias.


 Bias 2: The Tightrope:



“I’ve gotten remarks like, ‘I didn’t expect someone Indian…and female to be like this,” said a micro-biologist. An astrophysicist said she had to “damp down” her ambition and “become as amiable as possible.”



Is the question here finding the balance? The truth is, there is no such thing as “too feminine” or “too masculine”- any way a woman behaves is going to put her into boxes of categories- too bossy, or too weak. Women are judged faster, and in a more unforgiving manner. Hence, they often walk the tightrope in deciding what façade they want to put on, or what impulse they’d like to suppress. More than a third (34.1%) of scientists suppressed impulses to be authoritative, and put on a feminine act- a higher percentage of Asian women submitting to it. And 53.0% reported suffering consequences for being their “masculine” selves.


Black and Latina women are particularly targeted for being even slightly animated, as that reinforces the “angry black woman” stereotype.



Picture By: Huffington Post Picture By: Huffington Post

Bias 3: The Maternal Wall:


“There is an assumption,” noted a black microbiologist, “that your career is more of a hobby than a career, and you’re only going to do it until you find a husband and/or have a family.”

“I have to fight very hard to show that I am good scientist as well as good mother,” said an Asian-American immunologist.


The prove-it-again syndrome only gets multiplied when a female employee has a baby. Her commitment and competence are instantly questioned, and this time, her opportunities get sparse and she is automatically entrusted with lesser responsibilities. Nearly two-thirds of the sample confirmed this.


Bias 4: Tug-of-War:

“I feel like I am competing with my female colleagues for the ‘woman’s spot’”


‘Women being women’s worst enemies’ is no uncommon phenomenon. Women who didn’t have it too easy in their own careers, who “probably had to go through hell”, made sure the younger women did, too. Yet, about three-fourths of the women scientists surveyed reported that women colleagues stuck up for each other, too. But a fifth of the scientists also reported that women are competitive amongst each other because organizations that are predominantly male have only certain spots reserved for women.


Bias 5: Isolation:

A Latina geographer observed that white people are “afraid of people of color in a way, like just worried they’re going to say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing. So they avoid that entirely.”


“I have actually heard people discuss Hispanic people as being lazy,”


“A lot of times,” said a microbiologist, “There are things that people exclude me from because they say, ‘Oh, she’s going to be the only black person there… just don’t invite her, she won’t feel comfortable.’”


While all women are distrusted on how they will fare in various engagements, this bias affects women of colour the most- like black and Latina women. 42% black women, 38% Latinas and 37% Asian-American women agreed that “I feel that socially engaging with my colleagues may negatively affect perceptions of my competence.”


“You don’t know who you can trust,” said a biologist. “This has been a very lonely life.”


Original Source: Harvard Business Review​>

#women in Tech #women in IT #women in STEM