CAREER BRIEF

Race- and gender-based bias persists in US science

Many researchers face discrimination at work — perhaps in higher proportions than do those in other professions.

A poll run by the Pew Research Center, a think tank in Washington DC, surveyed more than 2,300 US adults working in science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) jobs. The findings underscore the reality that, for some in the sciences, gender and race are still a barrier to success.

In the report, which is based on surveys conducted in summer 2017, 50% of female and 19% of male respondents in STEM fields said that they had faced discrimination because of their gender. By comparison, 41% of women outside STEM reported gender discrimination. The most common forms reported by women in STEM were earning less than other people in the same position, and being treated as if they weren’t competent. Nearly 10% of women in STEM said that they had been passed over for a job or promotion because of their gender.

“For women working in science, technology, engineering or math jobs, the workplace is a different, sometimes more hostile environment than the one their male co-workers experience,” the team says. “Discrimination and sexual harassment are seen as more frequent, and gender is perceived as more of an impediment than an advantage to career success.”

Harassment continues to be a concern. More than one-third of women in STEM — and nearly as many men — said that sexual harassment was a problem in their workplace. Among women who worked in male-dominated workplaces, 48% said that harassment was a problem. Just under one-quarter of women in STEM said that they had been harassed, which matched the rate reported by women in non-STEM jobs.

The survey also uncovered race-based obstacles, especially for African Americans. Sixty-two per cent of African Americans in STEM said they had encountered discrimination because of their race. Notably, 50% of African Americans in non-STEM fields reported discrimination. For women and minorities, discrimination in the sciences seems to be even more commonplace than in other fields.

Some STEM fields seem to be more problematic than others. Nearly three-quarters of women in computer jobs said that they had experienced gender-based discrimination in the workplace. The report noted that although the proportion of women in the workforce has grown in most science fields since 1990, their presence in the computer field has shrunk.

Gender inequities seem to be most prevalent in workplaces where men outnumber women, the report found.

Nature 554, 561 (2018)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-02175-y
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