Career Paths in Stem for African American Women

By: Yendi Neil

Career paths in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) are growing in the modern world, but women’s representation within these jobs is not experiencing the same amount of growth. A literature review was conducted on previous studies ranging from the early 2000s to now about women representation in STEM careers. After screening and content coding, 94 studies were deemed eligible. From these studies, common themes within the variables and methodology were determined. One prominent theme discovered in the methodology was the groups represented in the minority focus.

When looking at the methodology, the existing minority focus was coded, and a description was reported of the minority group(s). Overall, there were 28 studies that contained a minority focus with 16 about the African American community and 12 about the Asian American community. A lack of research on the differences between the minority groups (i.e. African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and American Indians or Alaska Natives) was a common theme within these studies. More in-depth studies (i.e. interviews & case studies) focused more on African Americans while other studies gave a more generalized look by reporting the outliers in data or focusing more on surveys to understand minority groups. For example, a book source, Girls and Women in STEM: A Never Ending Story, contained studies conducting interviews and case studies on African American women, who were undergraduate and up (i.e. graduate students & employee), and the obstacles they face. In contrast, Developing the leadership capacity and leader efficacy of college women in science, technology, engineering, and math fields reported any outliers within the data as a representation of a minority focus of the study. The studies in Girls and Women in STEM: A Never Ending Story focused on the African American community because it is currently one of the largest growing populations in colleges but is still underrepresented. Significantly, there was a lack of attention given to racial subgroups in gender research during the mid-1990s. Researching into the experiences of African American women, researchers wanted to capture a snapshot of the struggles and successes faced and apply this snapshot towards other groups.

Furthermore, only two of the minority focus research papers contained some type of intervention that was tested: ADVANCE program and PTS (Noyce Pathway to Science). One study, African American Women in STEM Education: The Cycle of Microaggressions from P-12 Classrooms to Higher Education and Back, contained an African American minority focus and conducted interviews over the impact of PTS over the cycle of microaggressions from undergraduate to employment. The other study, Perceived Levels of Faculty Value, did not specify any one minority group and conducted a study about the climate/environment. Moreover, the current studies focused mostly on obstacles such as racial bias, cultural influences, workplace/college climate, and self-efficacy.

Heading into the future, studies can potentially place more emphasis on understanding what different obstacles are faced and the type of interventions that work for other minority groups with women in STEM. Each minority group faces different obstacles as racial stereotypes drive perception and affect the treatment of each race. A possibility in which each group reacts differently to certain variables and interventions exists and has not been tested thoroughly. Stereotypes can differ from outside and within many minority groups affecting women representation in STEM careers especially the field of study and career commitment.