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Professional Cultures and Inequality in STEM
Can the culture of STEM help reproduce inequality?The professional cultures of STEM, which give each discipline its particular “feel” and unite discipline members under a taken-for-granted system of meanings and values, are not benign. Drawing from several NSF-funded survey and interview-based studies, I argue that these professional cultures can have built within them disadvantages for women and other under-represented groups in STEM. Specifically, I discuss the role of three particular cultural ideologies—schemas of scientific excellence, depoliticization and the meritocratic ideology—in producing these disadvantages. I end by explaining why decisions (e.g. admissions, hiring, tenure) that partially rely on assessments of individuals’ “fit” with professional cultures are particularly important to critically examine for their potential to contribute to inequality.
Dr. Erin Cech is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Michigan. Before coming to Michigan in 2016, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University and was on faculty at Rice University. She earned her Ph.D. in Sociology in 2011 from the University of California, San Diego and undergraduate degrees in Electrical Engineering and Sociology from Montana State University.
Cech's research examines cultural mechanisms of inequality reproduction--specifically, how inequality is reproduced through processes that are not overtly discriminatory or coercive, but rather those that are built into seemingly innocuous cultural beliefs and practices. Her work on inequality in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professions focuses on the recruitment and retention of women, LGBTQ, and racial/ethnic minority persons in STEM degree programs and STEM jobs. Cech is a member of the editorial board of the American Sociological Review and her research has been referenced in The New York Times, Washington Post, Harvard Business Review and the news sections of Science and Nature.
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