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Hostile work environment is the number one reason women in STEM leave their jobs

This was revealed by a new study presented by the University of South Australia (UniSA).

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The study ‘Women alienated from STEM careers by entrenched workplace cultures,’ shared by the University of South Australia, found that an unsupportive or hostile work environment is the top reason women in STEM quit their jobs.

Sofie León, Ph.D. and Manager at DEIB consultancy in Peoplism, pointed out through a press release:

The findings in UniSA's latest study sound all too familiar. Gender stereotyping, lack of positive role models, and an unsupportive work culture are all things I experienced as a woman in STEM.

Sofie Leon Ph.D. is a manager of DEIB consultancy at Peoplism. Photo: Peoplism.
Sofie Leon Ph.D. is a manager of DEIB consultancy at Peoplism. Photo: Peoplism.  

Key Findings 

The findings also point to other obstacles that cause women to abandon their STEM careers, including:

  • Inflexible working hours
  • A lack of female role models in senior leadership positions
  • Some employers' failure to acknowledge the fact that unpaid time to care for children and elderly parents is a burden that disproportionately falls to women
  • Inequitable language in the workplace and the media, reinforcing the stereotype that technical skills are masculine and soft skills are feminine
  • Facing unconscious bias, such as the belief that women have different skill sets to men

For me and many women like me, the unsupportive culture stemmed from a fundamental feeling of being 'othered'. I was so often the only woman or woman of color on a project team, and I did not eat, sleep, and breathe engineering in the way that it felt my colleagues and classmates did,” underlined León, who before moving on to a career at DEIB, earned a Ph.D. in civil engineering and worked in STEM.

Background  

Peoplism also alludes to an earlier study from Kent State University, which found that a simple email of encouragement can have a marked impact on women's confidence and retention.

Considering that the women included in the dynamic rated their STEM skills 10% lower and were 17% less likely to say they intended to continue studying computer science than men, after the email, the intentions of women of persist in computing increased by 18%.

Research has shown that, even when women perform as well as men, they self-rate their abilities lower. Women also report feeling uncertain about remaining in fields where they're underrepresented, such as tech and compute science,” said Dr. Liz Kofman-Burns, Ph.D., sociologist and co-founder of Peoplism.

Dr. Liz Kofman-Burns is a Ph.D. Sociologist and co-founder of Peoplism. Photo: Peoplism.
Dr. Liz Kofman-Burns is a Ph.D. Sociologist and co-founder of Peoplism. Photo: Peoplism.

Change Proposals

León uses the study to reflect on how STEM employers can take steps to solve some of the issues raised.

The obvious solution is for employers to just hire more women using strategies like partnering with diverse networks like SWE or AnitaB.org, recruiting from universities with strong women in STEM organizations, or starting an internship program geared at historically excluded populations,” pointed out León.

Also, Leon made the following warning: “Bringing members of historically excluded groups into a culture that will be unsupportive or potentially hostile is a surefire way to thwart any progress in representation and, even worse, may instill doubt in those individuals about whether a STEM career is for them.”

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