50% of women in STEM face discrimination

Thursday, 11 January, 2018

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Gender discrimination is experienced by half of women who work in the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) fields, according to new research.

The Pew Research Center survey examined experiences in the workplace and perceptions of fair treatment for women — as well as racial and ethnic minorities — in STEM occupations.

This nationally representative survey of 4914 United States adults included 2344 workers in STEM jobs to explore the issues facing women and minorities in the STEM workforce.

Women in STEM jobs report an array of experiences with discrimination including being treated as if they were not competent (29%); earning less than their male counterparts for the same job (29%); experiencing repeated, small slights at work (20%); and receiving less support from senior leaders than a man doing the same job (18%).

The share of women in STEM reporting gender discrimination at work is higher among those who work in majority-male workplaces (78%), those who work in computer jobs (74%) and those with postgraduate degrees (62%).

One in five women in STEM say their gender has made it harder to succeed at work, compared with 7% of men in STEM. Among women in STEM jobs who work in majority-male settings that figure rises to 48%.

When compared with women working in non-STEM fields, women in STEM are more likely to say they have experienced gender-related discrimination in the workplace (50% vs 41%). In other respects, however, women in STEM jobs report facing challenges that echo those many working women in non-STEM positions face. For instance, both are equally likely to say they have experienced sexual harassment at work (22%) and both groups are less inclined than their male counterparts to think that women are ‘usually treated fairly’ when it comes to opportunities for promotion and advancement.

An accompanying Pew Research Center analysis of US Census Bureau data finds that the number of jobs in STEM has grown substantially — particularly in computer occupations. Although there have been significant gains in women's representation in life and physical sciences since 1990, the share of women working in computer occupations has decreased by 7%.

"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," said Cary Funk, director of science research at Pew Research Center and lead author of the report.

"Half of women working in STEM say they have encountered some form of gender discrimination at work. Women employed in STEM settings where men outnumber women are among those most likely to say they see workplace inequities."

Women in STEM jobs are more likely than their male colleagues to report experiences with discrimination and to consider sexual harassment a problem at work.

The report also explored the outcomes of STEM education, with most Americans rating K-12 STEM education as average or worse compared with other developed nations. In the survey, 43% of respondents rated it as average, 30% as below average and 25% either as above average or the best in the world.

This analysis relies on a broad-based definition of the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) workforce. STEM jobs include: computer and mathematical jobs, architecture and engineering, life sciences, physical sciences, and healthcare practitioners and technicians.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Prazis

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