As the national conversation about how women are treated in the workplace continues, a new Pew Research Center report finds that half of women working in science, tech, engineering and math (STEM) jobs report experiencing discrimination at work due to their gender, more than women in non-STEM jobs (41 percent) and far more than men working in STEM jobs (19 percent).
Discrimination comes in many forms. Women in STEM jobs report an array of experiences including being treated as if they were not competent (29 percent); earning less than a male colleague for the same job (29 percent); experiencing repeated small slights at work (20 percent); and receiving less support from senior leaders than a man in the same position (18 percent).
These and other findings in the Pew Research Center study speak to the complex issues surrounding diversity, as the STEM workplace is revealed to be a different, sometimes more hostile environment for women than the one experienced by their male coworkers.
There’s a large literature on how the balance of representation between genders (or other kinds of social groups) influence how people interact at work. (Rosabeth Moss Kanter was a pioneer in this field, with her 1977 book, Men and Women of the Corporation.)
In keeping with those studies, the Pew Research Center report finds that, whereas most women in STEM occupations work in majority-female workplaces (55 percent) or with an even mix of both genders (25 percent), the 19 percent of women employed in male-majority workplaces stand out. Among those women, 78 percent say they have experienced at least one of these types of gender discrimination. A similar share of these women (79 percent) say they feel a need to prove themselves at least some of the time in order to be respected by their coworkers. And, about half this group (48 percent) feels that being a woman has made it harder to succeed in their job.
As one respondent, a 36-year-old technical consultant, explained, “People automatically assume that I am the secretary, or in a less technical role because I am female. This makes it difficult for me to build a technical network to get my work done.”
Women in computer jobs—including systems analysts, software developers, programmers and computer scientists—also stand out from other women in STEM. Roughly three-quarters (74 percent) of them say they have experienced gender-related discrimination (compared to 16 percent of men in computer jobs), and they are less likely than men to say that women are usually given a fair shake in their own workplace when it comes to opportunities for promotion and advancement (43 percent vs. 77 percent).
To be sure, some of the challenges that women face in STEM echo concerns of working women in other professions. For instance, both groups are equally likely (22 percent) to say they’ve experienced sexual harassment at work. But these findings come at a time when jobs in STEM are outpacing overall job growth in the economy (79 percent in STEM jobs since 1990), with especially rapid growth in computer jobs (338 percent growth since 1990).
Women are often being left out of this job boom. 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 gone down 7 percent and has remained about the same since 1990 in other STEM jobs. STEM workers earn more on average than non-STEM workers, even after controlling for education. So representation in these kinds of jobs has important consequences for people’s wallets.
As the STEM community renews its commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion, these findings point to the ways women and men are often talking past each other when it comes to equity in the workplace.