A new study released today from the Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings and the Society of Women Engineers documents large gender and racial gaps for multiple patterns of bias among engineers. Over 3,000 professionals in science, technology, and engineering completed the Workplace Experiences Survey which asked respondents whether they had experienced basic patterns of gender and racial bias. The report is available for download here.

Significant findings of the report include:

  1. Women (61%) and engineers of color (68%) were more likely than white men (35%) to report having to prove themselves repeatedly to obtain the same levels of respect and recognition as their colleagues.
  2. Women engineers reported that a narrower range of behavior was accepted from women than men; women reported pressures to behave in feminine ways and pushback for behavior seen as “too masculine.”
  3. Engineers of color also reported having a narrower acceptable range of behavior compared to white men. Engineers of color were less likely to report that they can show anger without receiving pushback, take the lead, and have the same access to desirable assignments.
  4. Almost 80% of men, but only 55% of women, reported that having children did not change their colleagues’ perceptions of their work commitment or competence.
  5. Women reported experiencing higher levels of bias in hiring, networking/sponsorship, and promotion than their male counterparts.
  6. African-American engineers reported higher levels of bias in networking, promotion, and mentoring/sponsorship than their white counterparts. Asian-American engineers reported more bias in performance evaluations than their white counterparts.
  7. Respondents also reported age bias: engineers 45 and over reported higher levels of bias in performance evaluations and mentoring/sponsorship, and engineers 55 and over reported higher levels of bias in promotions.

The implication: the climate in engineering is tougher for women engineers and engineers of color than it is for white male engineers. This could be one of the reasons for their relatively lower levels of representation in top-level jobs.

The study suggests that if implicit bias is being constantly transmitted through basic business systems, companies need to change the business systems. Williams suggests using a model called Bias Interrupters which involves developing an objective metric, implementing a Bias Interrupter, and returning to the metric to see if the Bias Interrupter has been effective and ratcheting up if needed.

Joan C. Williams is Distinguished Professor of Law, Hastings Foundation Chair, and Founding Director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. Su Li, Ph.D. Is Director of Research—Organizational Bias at the Center for WorkLife Law. Roberta Rincon, Ph.D., and Peter Finn are with the Society of Women Engineers.

Read more about the report in Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, Digital Engineering, and the Philadelphia Business Journal.

To contact Professor Joan. Williams, call 202-365-8013 or 415-565-4706 or email her at williams@uchastings.edu.

Click here to download PDF of the report.