It was spring of 2020, we were already working from home, and there we were, finishing the last touches on our most awaited piece of research: Women in STEM: an intersectional analysis of multiple discriminations. Yes, we were in the press, we got many likes and thumbs up, but the global focus was elsewhere. Therefore, I would like to steal some of your valuable time to make you aware that Equate Scotland published an important report on Women in STEM last year, and in the next newsletters I will share some of our findings and recommendations with you.
It is fair to say that 500 women were part of the process of creating this report, from those who attended our focus groups, to those who replied to our surveys, not to mention all the experts, supporters and collaborators who made it possible. Most importantly, I want to highlight the messages that women experiencing multiple discriminations in STEM in Scotland shared with us. I feel that these findings are even more relevant today given the current focus on women’s rights globally. Therefore, it is essential that we keep talking about them.
Intersectionality, in summary, is the approach used in this research to understand how women can experience multiple discriminations based on different personal characteristics, for example, due to their race and gender.
Figure 1. Visual representation of the intersection of race and gender
For a thorough explanation, check section 2.2 of our report.
We experience discrimination differently based on our personal characteristics and this has an impact on how we experience work environments, the career options available to us and the professional barriers that we face. On this subject, our research participants shared the following thoughts:
“Being a Scottish Pakistani female who has worked in the technology sector, for me, multiple discriminations as a term covered my experiences, the additional barriers linked to my gender, my religion, my choices”
Comment on the terms: multiple discriminations and intersectionality.
Focus Group 1, Equate Scotland 2019
“It was difficult to be taken seriously in construction project site meetings, where I was the only female, the only young person and the only non-Scottish person. Whenever I asked a serious question about my work, it would typically be laughed at…”
Equate Scotland survey 2019
“I have felt that I was treated differently during pregnancy and after returning to work due to additional childcare responsibilities”
Equate Scotland survey 2019
Gender, ethnic background, religion, age, sexual orientation, disability, socio-economic background, caring responsibilities, etc. These are all personal characteristics that shape how we are treated in our work and learning spaces and influence whether we are included, excluded, or discriminated. Imagine you are a woman in a male-dominated field and you join a company where most staff are under thirty and you are in your fifties. Think about the different forms of discrimination or bias that you may experience if you are also the only woman from an ethnic minority background in your team and you have caring responsibilities. Facing biases and unequal treatment is a reality for many women in STEM.
“I’ve been discriminated against in a workplace environment and at college due to my gender. As a woman in the audio engineering industry, I have experienced men ignoring my ideas, making sexist remarks around me, mistaking them for humour and asking me to fetch them coffee while men at the same level as me are given audio related tasks to carry out. In the past, I had a tutor assume that I’d rather work in a group with the few girls in my class “because I’m a girl” and passed over in workplace environments because I’m not deemed physically strong enough (being a woman) despite being physically as strong or stronger than some of the men selected for certain tasks.”
Survey participant, Equate Scotland survey 2019
If these experiences would be happening to you, how confident would you feel about reporting exclusion or discrimination to your employer?
Our report concluded that 1 in 3 women did not feel confident in reporting experiences of exclusion or discrimination to their employers. We looked at this with an intersectional lens and we found that this proportion increases for black and minority ethnic women, disabled women, LGBT women and women with caring responsibilities. For example:
- Over 50% of disabled women stated they do not feel confident reporting experiences of exclusion or discrimination to their employers
- Over 50% of BME women stated they do not feel confident reporting experiences of exclusion or discrimination to their employers
- 50% of LGBT women stated they do not feel confident reporting experiences of exclusion or discrimination to their employers
Women in STEM in Scotland are experiencing high volumes of sexism and ageism at work, college and university, so they need to feel safe and heard to report experiences of discrimination or bias. Employers and educators must take accountability for the environments that they are promoting and commit to creating inclusive spaces. One of the main recommendations of our report is changing workplace cultures through implementing robust and clear processes to deal with instances of discrimination. The report also highlights the need to provide quality training on equality, diversity, and inclusion to members of staff. Training and education are also linked to the betterment of recruitment practices and flexibility but that’s a discussion for the next blog.
Hoping that our report’s findings encourage employers and educators in STEM to read our report and rethink their processes and policies, I leave you with a link to this imperative document of evidence, insights, and analysis which kept me going through the toughest times of last year. I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge Talat and Mavis who were a key part of this report and to thank all the women who took part in it.
Yours in the infinite quest for intersectionality,
P.S: a global pandemic, a baby, moving house three times, returning to work and other eventful moments… These are just some of the reasons why this blog hasn’t happened sooner. Now that I have (personally) finally made it out of the rabbit hole, I am here to listen to your feedback! Share your thoughts on our Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #equatesreport Let us know if you were one of the amazing women who completed our survey!
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