An imbalance in STEM

Lexie Andrew

Confronting topics of diversity and equality in the STEM field, Erin Cech, an associate professor of sociology and mechanical engineering departments at the University of Michigan, held a lecture over Zoom and on the Weber State University Davis campus on Jan. 24.

Eric Cech presents a graph, breaking down the percentage of different racial and ethnic groups have a bachelor's degree, a doctorate's degree, and those who are employed.
Eric Cech presents a graph breaking down the percentage of different racial and ethnic groups who have a bachelor's degree, a doctorate degree and those who are employed. Photo credit: Lexie Andrew

Cech explained that the inequality in the field isn’t only based on gender or race; class and social status are factors, as well. However, Cech’s lecture mainly focused on gender and race.

“Women, people of color and LGBTQ-identified individuals are underrepresented in STEM, meaning that there is a lower representation in STEM than there are in the broader U.S. population, but they’re also systematically disadvantaged in science and engineering fields,” Cech said.

Because these groups of people are underrepresented in STEM, it can lead to inequalities and harassment in the workplace.

Cech explained that there have been reports of workplace harassment from people of color, as well as reported pay gaps between genders.

“For every dollar men in STEM make, women only make about 86 cents, even if they have the same level of education and training,” Cech said.

Underrepresentation can set these groups back when pursuing STEM, meaning they may have to work harder to gain recognition or get to the same level as others.

“LGBTQ-identifying persons are more likely to say that they have to work harder than colleagues to be considered legitimate professionals and are less likely than their colleagues to believe that they’re perceived as equally skilled professionals,” Cech said.

The Professional Opportunities Scale demonstrates how much less likely disadvantaged groups experience professional opportunities.
The Professional Opportunities Scale demonstrates how much less likely disadvantaged groups are to experience professional opportunities. Photo credit: Lexie Andrew

Audience members shared their experiences with inequality or harassment. There was also a fiery debate as they shared their thoughts and opinions on the subject.

Cech talked about three different ideologies of professional culture in STEM that can create inequalities, as well as ways to rethink these cultures to lessen the inequality.

Cech said professional cultures are the ideas that connect a profession and that the three different groups of cultures were schemas of scientific excellence, depoliticization and meritocratic ideology.

Schemas of scientific excellence were explained as a “cultural yardstick” to see how a person “fits” into the field. These schemas create the biases and stereotypes people see in STEM.

“Depoliticization is the belief that STEM is a pure space that not only can be stripped of these cultural and social concerns but should be,” Cech said.

However, Cech explained that this is not what happens. Social and cultural concerns are taken into account, from how a project is funded to what scientists should even study. It also adds to inequality by shutting down conversations about diversity because they are “polluted” by social and cultural concerns.

The Professional Devaluation Scale showcases the rate at which different disadvantaged groups are devalued, or harrassed, in professional workplaces.
The Professional Devaluation Scale showcases the rate at which different disadvantaged groups are devalued, or harrassed, in professional workplaces. Photo credit: Lexie Andrew

Cech’s last ideology is meritocratic ideology, which is the idea that success comes from talent and motivation. People with those ideals succeed, and those who don’t succeed deserve their lack of success.

However, some obstacles and systems may prevent others from succeeding and blame those they believe are not working hard enough or aren’t motivated.

Cech explained that, in order to decrease inequality in STEM, people need to have a growth mindset instead of a fixed one. Knowing people might not fit the stereotypical STEM profession image, talking about diversity issues and inequality and acknowledging there is a problem in the first place are all ways to address the issue.