Women Scientists Still Face DiscriminationApril 26, 2011
While the number of women earning college degrees in science has increased in the past decade, two recent reports remind us of the hostile environment and discrimination women still face in the workplace. As AAUW research has shown, stereotypes, gender bias, and the climate of academic departments in colleges and universities continue to block women’s participation and progress in science, technology, engineering, and math. And in addition to facing these environmental and social challenges, women in these fields tend to earn less than their male counterparts.
A March report found that women leaving the engineering field were significantly more likely to leave because of an “uncomfortable work environment” than because of family reasons. In the survey, 25 percent of women respondents reported leaving the field to spend more time with family, while 33 percent left because they did not like the workplace climate, their bosses, or the culture. The survey also found that one-third of women who chose not to enter engineering after graduation said they did so because they viewed the profession as inflexible and hostile to women. Additionally, a majority of women said that they would have re-evaluated their decisions to leave engineering if their workplaces or colleagues had been more supportive or accommodating.
However, even when women continue to work in science fields, they face challenges. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a report in March that found that although it has made “remarkable progress” in hiring women science and engineering faculty, a gender gap and intimidating work environments still persist. Many female respondents to MIT’s survey said they felt hostility from colleagues who told them they only got their jobs because of affirmative action and that the push to advance women “must mean that standards are being compromised at some level.” Many respondents said they felt workplace attitudes posed obstacles to their success.
Workplace discrimination and harassment continue to be widespread and have real implications for women’s careers and economic security. This is why the AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund offers financial and organizational support for workplace- and academia-based cases that fight discrimination. Since 1981, LAF has disbursed nearly $2 million to more than 100 sex discrimination cases to help offset legal fees. This support has been instrumental to the success of many cases. Please visit our LAF Online Resource Library to learn more about your rights in the workplace.