Harvard Business Review Study Maps STEM Sexism, Shows How It Affects Women Of Color

06/05/2015 07:27 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2015

A new research study says sexism in STEM is alive and well -- and that it disproportionately affects women of color.

The "The 5 Biases Pushing Women Out Of STEM" study -- published in the Harvard Business Review -- surveyed 557 female scientists and interviewed 60 of them.

As the title suggests, researchers found five biases that alienate women in the industry. According to the study, "women find themselves walking a tightrope between being seen as too feminine to be competent, and too masculine to be likable."

One of the study's most significant findings was that for women scientists of color, their race counts against them. Asian women are the most susceptible to this racial bias. Forty-one percent of Asian women reported playing a stereotypically female role in the office, like the "dutiful daughter" or "office mother," as opposed to just 8 percent of black women.

Other women scientists of color who took part in the study also experienced gender and racial prejudice, reporting they constantly had to prove their abilities to skeptical colleagues. “People just assume you’re not going to be able to cut it,” a statistician told researchers, in what they describe as a typical comment.

Seventy-seven percent of black women reported this kind of bias, in contrast to around 65 percent of Latina, Asian and white women. Half of the black and Latina women surveyed said they'd been mistaken for administrative or custodial staff.

Danielle N. Lee, a post-doctoral research associate in Cornell's Department of Psychology, said the study's findings reflect her experiences as a woman of color in the sciences.

Lee says colleagues have questioned her competency and even the legitimacy of her credentials. "It's these type of micro aggressions [...] that makes science feel like an unwelcoming place to women of color," she told The Huffington Post.

Black and Latina women interviewed told researchers that their colleagues didn't invite them to social events, and that they feared sharing information about their lives would undermine their authority. Despite feeling alienated, they said they censored their feelings to avoid seeming too "angry."

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