A fifth of women in technical occupations experience sexual intimidation, according to a recent study in the US. In a male-dominated setting, they also have to deal with disadvantage or discrimination more often than women in non-technical sectors.

For this study, the renowned Pew Research Centre surveyed 5,000 American adults last summer, with half in a technical occupation, equally divided between men and women.

The outcomes on the position of women in technical occupations confirmed what had been observed previously, see for example Why So Few?, and once again highlights a very stubborn phenomenon: in technical occupations, women face disadvantages and sexual intimidation.

The study is unusual in that it compares the position of women in technical occupations with their position in non-technical occupations, and also looks at technical occupations where women are in a clear majority.



The technical occupations (known as STEM subjects in the US: Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) include jobs in typical technical sectors such as ICT, architecture, engineering agencies, technical companies and biotechnology. But sectors like healthcare and high-school / higher education (beta subjects) also fall within the category 'technical occupation'. The share of women in those sectors varies hugely: from less than 10% in occupations such as technical sales manager or mechanical engineer, to over 90% in occupations like speech therapist and dental hygienist. In healthcare, they are the majority, but in the world of engineers, they make up just 14% of the total. In the strongly growing ICT sector, their share has fallen over the last 30 years from 32% to 25%.




Half (50%) of women in technical occupations experience discrimination, and that is clearly more than the 40% or so that experience intimidation in other occupational sectors. Discrimination includes things such as lower salaries than men with the same work, being treated as incompetent if you're a woman, being belittled, and getting less support from managers than men.

There is also a distinct difference between companies where women are in the minority or where the share of men and women is more or less equal, and companies in which women are clearly in the majority. Of the first group, with men in the majority, 78% experience discrimination, but at 44% this is obviously far less the case in the other two groups. That difference is also expressed in the chance of succeeding in the job. Of women in a male-dominated setting, 48% experience that it is more difficult for them than for men, but in places where the ratio of men to women is different, the percentage is clearly lower, at 14%. Strikingly, higher educated women experience more discrimination than those with lower qualifications.


Some 20% of women with a technical occupation experience sexual intimidation. That percentage is more or less the same for non-technical occupations. In places where men are in a clear majority, almost half of women experience sexual intimation. For the sake of good order: the study was carried out before the #metoo campaign was launched.
The study also looked at discrimination of minorities in technical occupations, with dark-skinned people in particular facing abuse.

This study relates to American respondents and workplaces. To what degree these problems also exist in Europe or the Netherlands is hard to say as yet. As far as we know, no recent comparable research is available for the Netherlands.
Download the Pew Research Centre report here: Women and Men in STEM Often at Odds Over Workplace Equity.

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