HomeAsian AmericansStudy: Asian American Women in STEM Held Back by Stereotypes

Study: Asian American Women in STEM Held Back by Stereotypes

By Sophia Whittemore
AsAmNews Staff Writer

“Asian people are good at science”.

One might assume that the so-called “model minority” faces no discrimination in the workplace. However, in a white paper from UC Hastings School of Law by Joan William, Rachel M. Korn, and Su Li, this stereotype is challenged.  Asian women in STEM fields (e.g. technology, engineering, math, science) face workplace discrimination like other women of color do.

Their article details various points:

  • The Prove-It-Again pattern: Asian women are forced to prove their competence in their chosen STEM field, providing evidence that they are, in fact, knowledgeable in their field when they’re assigned tasks at the office.
  • The tightrope: Asian women feel that they need to walk a tight balance between either acting too feminine by being likeable around the office, or acting masculine and taking control of situations as a leader on projects.
  • Maternal Wall: Asian women are far less likely than their White counterparts to ask for maternal leave at work, and if they do, they face the most bias for taking that leave and are denied it entirely. It’s racial discrimination.

Professor Williams concludes the article by saying, “that people (women) of Asian descent face a higher level of workplace bias than White individuals, and that the experience of Asian people is more similar to the experience of URMs (underrepresented minorities.) With this knowledge, it is crucial to reconsider diversity initiatives that exclude Asian people.”

“The problem isn’t at entry for Asian women… the problem is with being taken seriously in the workplace and getting promoted,” said Williams to AsAmNews. The message most shocking despite this stereotype that ‘Asians are good at science’ is that this stereotype doesn’t give Asian professors or engineers in science the benefit of the doubt the same way White men are. There’s more push back if Asian women don’t behave in a certain way, and this isn’t widely recognized by other people. It’s open racial discrimination that Asian women are worker bees without creative work/leadership potential.”

AsAmNews reached out to Asian women to STEM for their reaction to the study. Both women who responded requested anonymity.

From a doctor in Texas:

“I was a first-generation woman in my family to attend college and medical school. However, since I was Pakistani American, it was often assumed that ” this comes easy” because of my ethnic background. In my first year of medical school, I was surprised to learn that I was not invited to an advisory group for first-generation students in their family to attend post-graduate school. When I had asked why I wasn’t invited, I was told because “well you are South Asian, so we figured…”.

From a New England STEM professor:

“While I am an Asian American scientist in academia, I really couldn’t relate to the findings of the paper. That certainly doesn’t mean that I don’t believe the biases it discusses. I just haven’t felt that I have experienced them. Of course, it could be that I am just not paying attention. Anyway, that is just my reaction to the study.”

That’s a conclusion that William, Korn and Li clearly disagree with.

“People of Asian descent experience workplace bias at a higher level than White people,” they wrote. “The stereotype about Asian people is not entirely negative. However the data still show that Asian people are not protected from experiencing the same type of bias as other people of color. Asian people face stereotypes that White people do not, they are seen as an out-group and a worse fit in the workplace, and they experience the corresponding consequences.”

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