It’s difficult to write about the discrimination of women in STEM – or any other field – in 2018. It’s something that firmly belongs in the past, and yet, by any measure, it appears to be a somewhat Sisyphean struggle for women to work on an even playing field with men.
A new survey by the Pew Research Center has highlighted just how prevalent the problem is. There’s a lot to break down here, but the lowlight is that 50 percent of women in all STEM jobs have experienced discrimination at work, compared to 19 percent of men.
The most common forms of gender discrimination experienced by women are earning less than their male counterparts (29 percent) and being treated as if they were incompetent (29 percent).
Discrimination appears to be more prolific for women working in computer jobs (74 percent), for women who hold postgraduate degrees (62 percent), and for women in STEM settings where men outnumber women (78 percent).
Additionally, 22 percent of women in STEM jobs said that they have experienced sexual harassment at work.
There’s a lot more to the survey, and you can read the results in full here. It also found, for example, that minorities experience far more discrimination in STEM settings, particularly black STEM workers.
The findings, as disheartening as they are in isolation, are just several pieces of a far larger jigsaw.
Take your pick from the pile of evidence. Grant reviewers are regularly found to be biased against women in most fields. When anonymous, women are seen as being better coders than men – but not when their identity is known to reviewers.
Whether it's active discriminatory efforts from colleagues and supervisors or whether it comes in the form of structural discrimination or unconscious bias, it’s having a hugely detrimental effect.
"Many of my female friends in the STEM careers have their tales of discrimination in the workplace, from subtle sexist remarks to more serious cases of bullying," Yolanda Ohene, a PhD student at University College London, tells IFLScience.
She explains that she has previously experienced a hostile working environment with a male co-worker with more authority, who would question her presence in a laboratory and generally try to undercut her confidence – something that made her "feel vulnerable, victimized and inadequate to be working in the lab."
"I think that the next step after admitting that there is still a problem is for everyone to acknowledge their privileges," Ohene adds.
"Whenever I stand up to present my research at a conference, and look out to an audience of inevitably mostly white male faces, I remember that I am so lucky that someone once promised that they’d never stop believing in me until I believed in myself."