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Half of Women in STEM Jobs Have Faced Gender Discrimination

Time's up.

10 JAN 2018

For women and racial minorities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs, discrimination and harassment in the workplace is rampant, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.


The report, released this week, found half of all women in STEM jobs have experienced gender discrimination at work, which is even greater than women in non-STEM jobs (50 percent vs. 41 percent).

On the other hand, sexual harassment in STEM and non-STEM jobs is relatively equal, with more than one-third of women claiming sexual harassment is at least a small problem where they work. Only 28 percent of men reported feeling the same way.

"At a time when the STEM community has been renewing its commitment to diversity, this study reveals that men and women in STEM continue to experience the workplace quite differently," Cary Funk, director of science research at Pew Research Center and lead author of the report, said in a press release

Over the years, representation of women in STEM has made great progress, but there is still room for improvement.

While the share of women in life and physical sciences has gone up, women are still underrepresented in physical science and engineering. And in computing, their numbers have actually dropped by 7 percent.

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Yet even when women enter these fields, they are still vulnerable to systemic discrimination. And certain groups of women are more likely to be targeted than others.

For instance, in predominantly male workplaces, a shocking 78 percent of women in STEM say they have faced gender discrimination. 


"People automatically assume I am the secretary, or in a less technical role because I am female," said one respondent, a white woman in her mid-30s working as a technical consultant.

"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 most common, institutionalized forms of discrimination experienced by women in STEM include:

  • Unequal pay for equal work (29 percent)
  • Having someone treat them as if they were incompetent (29 percent)
  • Experiencing repeated, small slights in their workplace (20 percent)
  • Receiving less support from senior leaders than a man doing the same job (18 percent)

For women of color - and especially black women - the barriers are even more repressive.

Despite the fact Black and Hispanic women make up 7 and 8 percent of the population respectively, these women hold only 2 percent of science and engineering occupations.

Plus, previous studies have shown black women are significantly undervalued compared to their white, female counterparts.

The Pew survey reveals 62 percent of black people in STEM have experienced discrimination at work because of their race or ethnicity, compared to 50 percent in non-STEM jobs.


Furthermore, 44 percent of Asians and 42 percent of Hispanics say they have been treated differently because of their race. Only 13 percent of white people felt they had experienced racial discrimination.

Many women of color who were surveyed believe their race and gender has made it harder to succeed, providing a number of explanations, including concerns about the hiring process, promotions and pay equity, and stereotypical beliefs among their coworkers.

"This 'other-ness' exists intentionally or unintentionally between those of a minority and those of a majority from lacking of common cultural background," said an Asian, female engineer surveyed in the study.

"Relationships at work appear polite on surface but reluctant tendency in willing to share limited opportunities the same way, which I felt in a previous job where whites and males were overwhelmingly a majority."

The results are troubling, but they also highlight clear areas of improvement for the scientific community. 

Studies have shown, under the right conditions, scientific teams can benefit from greater diversity, including diversity in scientific discipline, work experience, gender, ethnicity, and nationality.

It must also be noted that since the Pew study was conducted, women all over the world and in every sector of the economy have stood in solidarity with the Me Too movement and the Time's Up intiative to speak out against sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace. 

In 2018, these movements have continued to pick up steam.

The Pew Research Center surveyed a nationally representative sample of 4,914 adults (including 2,344 STEM workers) between July 11 to August 10, 2017. The data used in the study came from the US Census Bureau.

You can read the full Pew Research report here.