Female Engineer Discrimination: How Gender Bias Hinders Innovative Thinking in the STEM Field

female engineer in hard hat working

Female Engineer Discrimination: How Gender Bias Hinders Innovative Thinking in the STEM Field

In the world of females in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), acts of micro aggression pile up, resulting in gender discrimination. Studies projected that women in STEM would increase, but instead, the percentage of women in STEM fields have actually decreased since 1991. Any time a minority exists in the workplace, the possibility for employment discrimination increases.

Gender stereotyping plays a huge part in the workplace for women. Often, female STEM professional have to fight against Victorian ideas of what a woman should be. And this stereotyping often accumulates to become gender discrimination in the workplace. STEM professionals who experience ongoing employment discrimination due to gender should contact a discrimination lawyer.

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Deeply Rooted Gender Stereotyping in STEM

Researchers and STEM professionals are taking note that the gender gap in STEM is only widening rather than decreasing. By now, previous studies projected that the gap would have lessened. However, the gender gap has only grown.

Studies blame a number of different reasons, including the lack of women in STEM as well as subtle discrimination. In team projects, women engineers find themselves holding the traditional role of secretary rather than building the experiment. The exit rate for women is fairly high, and their reasons for leaving usually rest on pay and promotion. Moreover, when women succeed in something, rather than being celebrated, they might face societal penalties for it.

“If you ask someone to describe a man and a woman, you get remarkably similar responses to what you got years ago,” Madline Heilman, a New York University psychology professor said. “That’s residual of the roles that men and women played when women were the caretakers and men were the workers. Those perceptions have held, and for some reason, there’s a stake in maintaining those roles in the world.”

Women who desire to stay in the STEM field may need to seek legal aid to right this ongoing gender discrimination. Reach out to an employment lawyer at Kraemer, Manes & Associates for legal solutions.

The Many Faces of Female STEM Discrimination

In earlier decades, gender discrimination often was blatant. Choosing a “male” profession was almost seen as turning a back to one’s own gender. It just wasn’t done. The first cross-dressers saw the reward of pursuing career passions  by temporarily or permanently ignoring their original gender. No longer do men and women need to be confined by gender stereotypes when pursuing careers. Despite these changes, employment discrimination still subtly ruins careers.

“It’s too hard for women.”

The competency of women choosing to pursue engineering is questioned with this statement. Many young women choosing a STEM field face such comments from loved ones. This perception hampers not only women but men because it encourages everyone to question the ability of women to be intelligent and competent in a STEM position.


Lucy needed a tutor for one of her science classes, and he didn’t even bother to let her work through the problems. He just handed her the answers. The guys in her class noticed this different treatment and accused Lucy of sleeping with the tutor for the answers. That’s not the help she wanted from her tutor.

“Are You in HR?”

Although older workers mean nothing by it, that simple little question, “Are you in HR?” regulates women to relational positions. Nothing is wrong with being an HR employee. The problem is stereotyping others by their gender into a certain role within the company.

“You’re Too Pretty”

Society responds to the way that people present themselves. In male-dominated working environments, women who wear dresses receive less respect from male colleagues. Dressing feminine seems to be associated with being less intelligent.


Marigold loves wearing bright colors, dresses, and lipstick. During a team meeting, she suggested an idea, and the male team lead shot the idea down, “Go, paint your nails or something.” A few weeks later, in a different meeting, Marigold wore slacks and a simple button-up shirt. She noticed that this same lead listened to her ideas.

“Too Male-Dominated”

Some STEM workplaces mask gender discrimination behind the guise of polite accommodation, telling female engineers, “That location is too male-dominated so we will place you somewhere else.” This is gender discrimination despite the sweet talk. A qualified employee who is not given a role in a specific department or location due to sex has experienced gender discrimination.


Abigail heard from a coworker that a new project would require hands-on work on location, and she approached her boss about the potential opportunity. He promised her to think about it. When the assignments rolled out, Abigail was assigned to the office work and calculations again. When she asked her boss why, he explained that “the site isn’t a place for a lady.”

“But, You’re Just Going to be a Mom.”

No matter what degree a woman pursues, but especially the sciences, older men and women often ask, “What’s the point of becoming a female engineer if you’re just going to become a stay-at-home mom?” Somehow, this question degrades both important roles in our society. This type of gender stereotyping and discrimination creates the very fabric of our culture and workforce.

concerned business woman at computer

Five Employment Patterns Hindering Women in STEM

Built on double standards, our society creates a difficult employment environment for men and women alike. Women, in particular, feel the burn of the double standard, and men are frequently unaware to the extent that society serves them. A couple of patterns reveal the employment double standards.


Gender stereotypes frustrate men and women, especially when their gender seems to mean they can’t model a certain characteristic. In the STEM world, women tiptoe across the tightrope of being too feminine and therefore incompetent or being too masculine and therefore unlikable. When Black and Latina women speak directly, they’re often get smacked with the angry ethnic woman stereotype.

 “I’m pretty aggressive,” said a Latina bioengineer in Harvard Business Review. “I find that both men and women…are going to immediately call [you a] witch. I’d use another word but it would be rude.”

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Despite being successful in past endeavors, women watch as those successes are discounted and ignored. In fact, they have to prove themselves over and over again rather than being trusted to be capable. Although already difficult on the female gender, when race comes into play, women of races other than white report more of this prove-it-again pattern.

Cat Fight

Women who have faced gender discrimination early in their career often feel that this illegal rite of passage ought to be experienced by newer working women. And so gender bias continues to fuel conflict between women. This is common in organizations where there are few women, forcing them to feel in competition with one another for the “woman’s spot.”

The Mom Thing

Certain expectations accompany motherhood, maybe especially for the career woman. Employers and coworkers question a woman’s commitment and competence in being both a mom and career woman. Opportunities dry up.

 “There is an assumption,” noted a black microbiologist in “The 5 Biases Pushing Women Out of STEM,” “that your career is more of a hobby than a career, and you’re only going to do it until you find a husband and/or have a family.”

All by Myself

Another bias that haunts black and Latina women is isolation. Many women feel that social engagement with coworkers will negatively influence perception about that woman’s capability. While some women might not be invited due to race, others just choose not to join because they don’t want to lose authority.

A Latina geographer in the Harvard Business Review suggested that white people are “afraid of people of color in a way, like just worried they’re going to say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing. So they avoid that entirely.”

Blaming pipeline problems or personal choices as the reasons for the shortage of women in STEM may seem logical. However, women seem to point out these other patterns, which keep women from choosing and staying in the STEM field. More and more research also points to gender bias.

STEM Gender Discrimination: How to Fix It

Recognizing discrimination and understanding how to deal with it requires an awareness for what discrimination looks like. Although it would be easy to say that men are the problem in female STEM discrimination, the truth is that men and women contribute to employment discrimination. Therefore, men and women must be aware of what gender discrimination looks like in the STEM field.

1. Recognize Gender Discrimination in Hiring Practices

Sometimes employer may not even be aware of the unconscious bias that is guiding their hiring decisions. To help guard against unconscious bias, employers should post jobs openings and focus on qualifications. For example, jobs that show any bias for a certain race, age, or religion is blatantly breaking the law.

Examples of possible STEM Gender Discrimination

  • job advertisements requesting “females” or “recent graduates”
  • word-of-mouth job advertising that only reaches African Americans
  • not giving a construction assignment to a woman employee because of the dirty environment

2. Make Friends with Men and Women

Having a strong network of men and women will prepare a female STEM professional for every type of work problem. Since men and women function differently with the world, tapping both perspectives for various problems will elicit a variety of solutions. If there are few female engineers in the field, look for an online network.

3. Create Woman-Friendly Workplaces

Granted, some places are stuck in a male-centric work environment, but other companies are trying to create STEM programs that women find inviting. More and more companies are realizing that women are uniquely equipped to bring diverse ways of thinking to the work. Female engineers and female STEM professionals are changing the perception of women, showing that women can be technical, too.

4. Keep an Eye on the Pay Gap

A comprehensive survey of technology jobs reveals that the gender pay gap is shrinking, especially when certain factors are taken into accounts, such as education, experience, and job titles. The survey did note that jobs held by men usually paid more, but this was the nature of the job position. But, there is still a shortage of women in the STEM field.


If you are a female engineer and have experienced gender discrimination, contact a discrimination attorney now to hear your legal options.

Chat with a discrimination attorney: (412) 626-5626 or lawyer@lawkm.com.