The gender disparity in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs has been well documented. But a new report suggests that few women teaching computing and engineering courses, and social pressure to not propagate female stereotypes in the workplace are partly to blame.
“Faculty at U.S. colleges and universities represent a critical part of the engineering and computing workforce,” the authors, Christianne Corbett, senior researcher, and Catherine Hill, PhD., head of research for the American Association of University Women (AAUW) wrote in the study. Yet, “women and people of underrepresented groups [e.g., racial minorities] are scarce.”
The 140-page study released Thursday evaluated the social, environmental and educational factors that affect women’s success in STEM fields, particularly computing and engineering.
Women only account for only 8 percent of computer software and 10 percent of computer engineering degrees awarded to women in 2010. Graduation rates for female computer science-related majors have declined for the past 15 years, stagnating at 18 percent from 2008 to 2013. African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans made up 15 percent of all four-year college graduates, yet 6 percent of computer science degree holders. Asian-American women, grouped separately in the report, earned 4 percent of bachelor degrees overall and held 2 percent of computer science degrees.
If you’re looking for some good news, this is it: The number of women teaching college-level computer science or engineering has actually increased in the past decade. Thanks to a 10 percent jump in new computer science teachers from 2004 to 2013, one in four assistant professors is female, with another one in five hold associate professorships. But the number of women as full-time computer science professors has barely moved since 2004 — increasing just 3 percentage points.
Those small numbers mean female students — particularly women of color — have few opportunities to see faculty who look like them. White and Asian men make up 85 percent of full-time faculty, while their female equivalents comprise 13 percent. People of color — black, Native American and Latinos — make up less than 3 percent of full-time computer science professors.
Women seem to also have trouble getting and keeping jobs in the computing industry. In the four years after women graduate, barely one in four female graduates get jobs in their major, the report said. Fewer women, 28 percent, stay in computing in the first four years after graduation compare to double the number of men, 57 percent, who work in the field. The numbers spike and dip throughout the years, dropping to 37 percent 10 to 14 years after graduation, and peaking at 46 percent 15 to 19 years out.
It’s unclear why women with four-year degrees in computer science don’t work in the field right after graduating whether they are delaying entering the field or just abandoning it altogether.
“Recent female computing graduates are less likely than female graduates further along in their careers to work in computing,” Corbett told ThinkProgress in an email. “This might mean women are delaying entry into computing after earning bachelor’s degrees in the field — or that women who earned degrees in computing between 2006 and 2010 are less likely to work in computing than women who earned computing degrees in years past.”
That exodus could be attributed to hostile workplaces, where combating microaggressions social pressures that science and math are for men, pushes them out.
Cues are often quite subtle…[For example,] Men holding sexist attitudes revealed their sexism through subtle but consistent behaviors, including behaving in more dominant and flirtatious ways. After interactions with these men, women subsequently performed worse on an engineering or math test than women who had interactions with nonsexist men.
That’s known as a stereotype threat, and those interactions, the study said, increase stress and anxiety to the point where an individual’s energy is diverted to suppressing the negative emotions or awareness of a stereotype.
The findings were only preliminary, Corbett said, but “while they can’t draw definitive conclusions, the researchers hypothesize that women who talk about their research with their male colleagues more may experience higher levels of stereotype threat which may result in disengagement from their work. Women who talk about social topics with their male colleagues, on the other hand, may feel a greater sense of belonging in their workplace which can protect them from the harmful effects of stereotype threat, resulting in greater engagement in their work.”
Tech employees and companies are well aware of their diversity problem, peppered with racial and gender-based discrimination and harassment. Those issues are exacerbated the longer one stays in the industry and climbs the ranks: Women only make up 11 percent of all executive positions in Silicon Valley companies.
But companies such as Google have been rolling out numerous efforts in hopes of diversifying the industry over time, leaving behind the “brogrammer” stereotype with initiatives that focus on children, young girls of color and high school students.