Women in STEM and minorities in STEM made to feel isolated at work
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Three-quarters of women in computer jobs have experienced workplace discrimination

18 Jan 2018

A report from the Pew Research Center has found that STEM women in male-dominated workplaces are more likely to experience discrimination.

We previously reported on how the White House diversity in tech pledge is holding up 12 months on, and how less than 25pc of the tech multinationals that signed up have actually complied with the transparency requirements.

The tech industry, for all it lauds data as the new oil, only produced reliable figures in the last year on gender and racial representation in some of its leading companies. The release of these numbers has inspired a larger debate about how to best tackle the problem, and what exactly is to blame.

On the back of this, the Pew Research Center released findings this month from a study conducted in summer 2017 into inequities in US workplaces.

It found, among other things, that three groups of women in STEM stand out as more likely to “see workplace inequities”: women employed in male-dominated STEM environments, women working in ‘computer jobs’ (not all of which are in the technology sector, Pew hastens to add) and women in STEM who hold a postgraduate degree.

Women in STEM experiencing discrimination

Compared with those in non-STEM professions, women in STEM are more likely to say they have experienced discrimination in the workplace (50pc in STEM v 41pc non-STEM). This is compared to the 19pc of men who stated that they have had similar experiences.

Pew’s research measures ‘discrimination’ under eight main behaviours, including earning less than a woman or man for doing the same job (the most common form of discrimination experienced by women), isolation in the workplace and being overlooked for important assignments.

Of the STEM women surveyed, 29pc said they had been treated as if they “were not competent” and 20pc had experienced “small, repeated slights” at work.

This aligns with findings detailed in the World Economic Forum’s 2017 edition of its Global Gender Gap report, which indicates that only 20pc of women over the age of 30 with ICT degrees decide to stay in the tech industry. These women often cite workplace culture as a motivation for their departure.

Roughly half (48pc) of women in STEM jobs in mostly male environments say their gender has made it harder for them to succeed, compared to 14pc of non-STEM women.

One respondent, a 36-year-old white female technical consultant, explained that people automatically assume that she is the secretary or “in a less technical role” because of her gender.

Women in computer jobs

Almost three-quarters (74pc) of women in computer jobs, such as software development or data science, say they have experienced discrimination because of their gender, compared with 16pc of men in these positions.

Furthermore, women in computer jobs are less likely to believe that they are “usually” treated fairly when it comes to promotions or opportunities for advancement, in comparison to their male counterparts. While 77pc of men think women get a fair shot, only 43pc of women maintain the same viewpoint.

Issues for women in workplaces everywhere

The Pew survey – conducted prior to the allegations against Harvey Weinstein and his ilk came to light, sparking public discussion about workplace sexual harassment and assault – found that 22pc of US working women say they have experienced sexual harassment at work. This figure holds steady across STEM and non-STEM industries.

For comparison, 7pc of working men say they have had similar experiences.

Nearly half of all female STEM workers (48pc) in male-dominated work environments say that sexual harassment is a problem where they work.

Racial discrimination in the workplace

The study didn’t view discrimination solely in a vacuum of gender, as it also delved into racial discrimination across workplaces.

Black and Hispanic workers are underrepresented in STEM occupations relative to their share of the US workforce. The percentage of black workers in STEM jobs has risen from 7pc in 1990 to 9pc today, still lower than the 11pc share that black people hold in the US workforce in general.

The percentage of Hispanic STEM workers has risen from 4pc to 7pc, while their share in the US workforce as a whole has risen from 7pc in 1990 to 16pc today.

Black STEM workers are, according to Pew’s research, especially likely to say they have experienced discrimination at work because of their race. Indeed, 62pc of black workers agreed with this, compared to 44pc of Asians, 42pc of Hispanics and 13pc of white people in STEM jobs.

Black STEM workers report more instances of racial discrimination at work than their non-STEM counterparts. They are less likely than their white counterparts to report fair treatment across races in their place of work when it comes to hiring and promotions.

In all, 43pc of black STEM employees believe that black people are treated fairly in recruitment, and 37pc believe they are given equal opportunities to progress. In comparison, most white STEM workers don’t see racial disparity in these processes (78pc with hiring and 75pc with advancement).

You can read the Pew Research Center’s report in full here.

Eva Short
By Eva Short

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic, specialising in the areas of tech, data privacy, business, cybersecurity, AI, automation and future of work, among others.

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