The Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings released a study
in January that examined biases against women of color in STEM fields. Written by Professor Joan C. Williams with coauthors Katherine Phillips and Erika Hall, "Double Jeopardy? Gender Bias Against Women of Color in Science" focuses explicitly on women of color because they're often overlooked in gender bias studies that end up focusing primarily on white women.
The study's title refers to the dual biases that women of color face due to both racial and gender discrimination. In addition to an online poll of 557 scientists, the report conducted in-depth interviews with 60 women of color, including Latinas, Asian-Americans, and black women. All of them reported experiencing workplace discrimination in both subtle and overt ways.
The summary of the report includes the following findings:
- 100% of the women interviewed reported gender bias.
- Black women are more likely (77%) than other women (66%) to report having to prove themselves over and over again.
- The stereotype that Asians are good at science appears to help Asian-American women with students—but not with colleagues.
- Asian-Americans reported both more pressure than other groups of women to adhere to traditionally feminine roles and more pushback if they don't.
- Latinas who behave assertively risk being seen as "angry" or "too emotional," even when they report they weren't angry; they just weren't deferential.
- Latinas report being pressured by colleagues to do admin support work for their male colleagues, such as organizing meetings and filling out forms.
- Both Latinas and Black women report regularly being mistaken as janitors.
The report examined four types of biases that have previously been found to negatively impact white women:
Prove-It-Again: Women are assumed to be less competent than men and must provide extra evidence before their work is taken seriously.
The Tightrope: Women have to find the right balance between "being seen as too feminine to be too competent—or too masculine to be likable."
The Maternal Wall: The stereotype that "women lose their work commitment and competence after they have children."
Tug Of War: Gender bias can fuel conflict among women who feel they must distance themselves from female colleagues.
While women of different races experience these biases in various ways, the study found they also face unique biases that do not affect white women, like being mistaken for janitors. Isolation, racial stereotypes, and accent discrimination were other biases reported by women of color.
But importantly, the study doesn't merely point out problems, it suggests solutions: Rather than conduct one-off bias training, the study suggests workplaces create initiatives to combat biases in real-time. That involves constantly assessing company policy for potential biases, implanting a "bias interrupter," measuring to see how well the intervention is helping, and ratcheting up the counter-measures if necessary.
For instance: Are women doing more office "housework" like planning parties, scheduling meetings, and ordering supplies? Assign admin to specifically handle those tasks or come up with a blanket policy that individuals must order their own supplies. Are men consistently negotiating higher start-up packages? Give all potential job candidates mentors to help them negotiate fair start-up packages.
Ultimately, biases exist and the only way to put a stop to that is to actively combat them every day.
Read the full report on the UC Hastings website.