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Research Highlights The Biases Holding Women Back In STEM Industries


The lack of women in STEM related subjects has been the subject of a great deal of discussion in recent years, not least in my articles here at CareerAddict. A recent study highlights the challenges society faces, with a number of biases revealed that hamper the chances of women who wish to get into STEM related fields. What’s more, the study found that many of these biases play out very differently depending upon the race of the woman in question.

See Also: The Stereotypes of the STEM Career

The paper highlighted a number of patterns or biases that women face:

  1. Prove it bias: A large number of women in the study revealed that they were under constant pressure to re-prove themselves time and time again. They revealed how their successes were often discounted and their expertise called into question. Sadly, it emerged that black women were even more likely to encounter this bias.
  2. The tightrope bias: The report found that women felt they had to behave in a masculine way so as to be regarded as competent by their peers. Yet there was also an expectation of femininity amongst women, thus creating a tightrope between being too feminine (and therefore not competent) or too masculine (and therefore not likable).
  3. The maternal bias: The third bias is one that commonly emerges in gender discussions. Women working in the STEM field found that they often ran into a brick wall the moment they had children. They found their competence and commitment were being constantly questioned, with career opportunities slowly drying up, as a result. There was almost a perception that their career had become a hobby as soon as women had children.
  4. The tug of war bias: It’s been shown in previous studies that when women encounter discrimination early on in their careers, they often react by creating a distance between themselves and other women. In other words, if an experienced female had to go through hell to progress in her career, she would often ensure those beneath her had a similarly tough time. It creates a sense of competition rather than cooperation among women in the workplace.
  5. The isolation bias: The final bias seemed primarily to apply to black and Latina women, with many ethnic women in STEM revealing that socialising with their peers appeared to have negative consequences for perceptions about their competence levels. It can create a very lonely existence, with many choosing to keep their social lives very hidden in order to maintain a level of authority.

Suffice to say, most of these bias are very implicit in nature and reflect the kind of stereotypes most of us don’t even realise we have. That isn’t to say that more overt stereotyping isn’t at play as well, merely that an understanding of some of the more hidden biases are equally important for progress to be made in this area.

There is a temptation when discussing the lack of women in STEM areas to an underdeveloped talent pipeline or a range of personal choices made by women. This report suggests however that things remain much more complicated than that, and that there are in fact some subtle biases continuing to hold women back.

See Also: 5 STEM Jobs With the Most Women Employees

Do you think that you have some of these biases and haven’t even noticed it? Your thoughts and comments below please...


Double Jeopardy
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