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Society of Women Engineers

Bias in the Workplace Is Not Going Away

Reports from a variety of organizations show the problem of gender bias is very real, and it’s not going away anytime soon.

Published On: March 2017

This article by Samuel Greengard was first published by Baseline.

Unless business and tech shed their white-male-dominated culture—and reexamine ageism—many companies are going to be at a huge disadvantage in the years ahead.

Although political pundits and news organizations continue to argue whether racial and gender bias exists, a slew of reports from a variety of organizations, along with government statistics, support the notion that the problem is very real, and it’s not going away anytime soon.

The latest evidence arrives courtesy of the Society of Women Engineers, which recently released the results of a study that reveals the specific gender and racial biases that female engineers face. The report, “Climate Control: Gender and Racial Bias in Engineering,” surveyed more than 3,000 professionals with at least two years of experience in the field. It found that a whopping 40 percent of female engineers leave the workforce by midcareer.

Here are a few findings from the report:

  • Women engineers were less likely than white men to say they could behave assertively (51 percent vs. 67 percent) or show anger without pushback (49 percent vs. 59 percent).
  • Women (33 percent) were more likely than white men (16 percent) to report pressures to let others take the lead; were more likely to report doing more “office housework,” such as finding a time everyone can meet, taking notes, or planning office parties (55 percent vs. 26 percent); and were less likely to report having the same access to desirable assignments (65 percent vs. 85 percent).
  • Nearly 80 percent of men but only 55 percent of women said having children did not change their colleagues’ perceptions of their work commitment or competence.
  • 68 percent of engineers of color (men and women) reported having to prove themselves repeatedly, compared to 35 percent of white men.

A previous 2016 study conducted by SWE found that nearly one-third of the women who exit the profession cited the workplace climate as the reason.

“Both of SWE’s recent studies on gender and racial bias and culture within the workplace confirm many of the insights we already know—women and people of color struggle to gain distinction within the engineering space, which is very much still dominated by men,” explained Karen Horting, CEO and executive director at SWE.

Of course, many of the same problems exist within the IT department. For instance, the National Center for Women in Information Technology reports that women make up only 25 percent of the field, and only 10 percent are women of color.

Something has to change. By 2024, 1.1 million computing-related job openings will exist, the National Center for Women in Information Technology predicts. Unless the business world sheds its white-male-dominated culture—and reexamines ageism—many companies are going to find themselves at a huge disadvantage in the years ahead.

Equality isn’t just fair, it’s also smart business.

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