There is overwhelming evidence that racism affects many aspects of academia and of the workforce. For example, 62% of Black and 42% of Hispanic employees in STEM have experienced discrimination in recruitment, retention and promotion (Pew Research Center, 2018). In addition, racism occurs in the form of microaggressions, which are commonplace, often unintentional slights, slurs and insults about people of color (Sue et al., 2007). There is also structural racism -- policies and practices that result in the exclusion of minoritized groups and women on the one hand, and the promotion of majority groups on the other. One example is defining “merit” based on metrics that favor majority groups (Hofstra et al., 2020; Heffernan, 2021). Also common is bias in evaluation and assessment, for example, in teaching evaluations, as well as a host of other biases that affect the recruitment, hiring, and promotion and progress of faculty of color. Solutions include improving university climate and sense of belonging for people of all identities, and, during hiring and promotion, emphasizing innovation, creativity, and meeting desired teaching and mentoring outcomes over traditional metrics. To better understand the effect of racism and sexism on the experiences of women faculty of color, check out Presumed Incompetent I: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia, & Presumed Incompetent II: Race, Class, Power, and Resistance of Women in Academia, by Yolanda Flores Niemann and colleagues.
Flores Niemann, Yolanda et al. (2012). Presumed Incompetent I: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. Utah State University Press.
Flores Niemann, Yolanda et al. Presumed Incompetent II: Race, Class, Power, and Resistance of Women in Academia. (2020). Utah State University Press.
Heffernan, Troy. "Sexism, racism, prejudice, and bias: a literature review and synthesis of research surrounding student evaluations of courses and teaching." Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education (2021): 1-11.
Hofstra, Bas, et al. "The diversity–innovation paradox in science." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117.17 (2020): 9284-9291.
Pew Research Center, January 2018. “Women and Men in STEM often at odds over workplace equity
Sue, Derald Wing, et al. "Racial microaggressions in everyday life: implications for clinical practice." American psychologist 62.4 (2007): 271.
Keep reading for more on this topic below, sourced from "Responses to 10 Common Criticisms of Anti-Racism in STEM"…
It is important to distinguish between the “method” of science and the “enterprise” of science .The scientific method is an objective strategy to understand natural phenomena. The scientific enterprise describes how experiments are conceived, performed, and interpreted in real practice. While the scientific method is impartial, the scientific enterprise is subject to individual biases and societal values .
There is a large body of evidence demonstrating that racism, particularly anti-Black racism, is prevalent within the scientific enterprise. 62% of Black employees and 42% of Hispanic employees in the STEM workforce say they have experienced racial discrimination in recruitment, the hiring process, or competing for promotions . Racial bias often manifests as microaggressions: commonplace indignities that (whether intentional or unintentional) communicate a hostile or derogatory message to BIPOC . For example, women of color faculty report being frequently mistaken for university staff or graduate students . Black professors are often perceived by their colleagues to have been hired primarily for their underrepresented minority status, and feel added pressure to prove their legitimacy as a scholar , . The #BlackintheIvory tag on Twitter contains many more anecdotes of racial microaggressions in academia.
Microaggressions are examples of individual racism, a term that describes a person’s prejudices and behaviors (both conscious and unconscious). Racism can also manifest at the systemic level. Systemic racism refers to “the policies and practices entrenched in established institutions which result in the exclusion or promotion of designated groups” . Importantly, systemic racism does not require individual intent; it is a status quo maintained by inaction and apathy, rather than overt acts of racism .
Black scholars are underrepresented in nearly every field of STEM, which reflects the existence of systemic racism . For example, only 5.9% of non-international students enrolled in life sciences PhD programs in the U.S. are Black, despite making up nearly 13% of the U.S. population , . This disparity is even greater at the college and university faculty level: only 0.7% of biology professors are Black, while 83.3% are white . Black, Latinx, and Native American professionals are also underrepresented in Big Tech companies, a trend that has improved very little in the past 5 years .
Systemic racism is maintained by current faculty and administration, whether consciously or unconsciously. One study found that professors rated identical CVs less favorably when the applicant had a traditionally Black or Latinx name compared to a traditionally white or Asian name . Black applicants are 13% less likely than White applicants to receive research funding from the NIH . BIPOC, especially women of color, are less likely than other groups to be invited or assigned to give talks at scientific meetings, despite requesting to present posters more often than their counterparts . In the STEM workforce, the salary levels of Black and Hispanic/Latinx professionals are substantially lower than their white counterparts at all educational levels, even when controlling for differences in field of occupation, experience, and degree-granting institution , .
The existence of racism in STEM does not only impact students and scientists. Science has a long history of mistreating Black people and other minorities as research subjects. This is evidenced by the experimental surgeries on Black enslaved women (without anesthesia) by “the father of modern gynecology” J. Marion Sims, the unconsenting and deceptive derivation and dissemination of tissue from Henrietta Lacks to create the HeLa cell line, and the blatant disregard of life and lack of consent from patients infected and untreated in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, among others .
The legacy of this unethical research is still felt today, as it contributes to prevalent distrust of the medical and scientific communities by BIPOC . This distrust, combined with inadequate efforts to recruit BIPOC as research subjects, means that BIPOC are underrepresented among clinical trial participants and other human research cohorts , , . As a result, the benefits of our research are not distributed equally; since the large majority of research subjects and tissue donors are white (even for many diseases that disproportionately affect BIPOC), biomedical research often has reduced relevance for BIPOC , . For medical research to apply to ethnic minorities, health and research institutions must build trust with minorities in order to encourage participation .
Medical professionals today still discriminate based on false beliefs about race which can directly impact patient care. 40% of medical students reportedly believed that Black people’s skin is thicker than white people’s. Students who held these false beliefs rated Black patients’ pain lower than white patients’ and made less accurate treatment recommendations . Additionally, medical students are not taught to identify symptoms that may present differently on darker skin. When health care professionals diagnose medical conditions by the presence of rashes, skin becoming pale, or lips turning blue, BIPOC patients may be overlooked in initial screenings; their quality of care is lower even before treatment because their symptoms are less likely to be recognized . Racial bias in medicine not only exacerbates distrust of biomedical research, but also entrenches systemic healthcare disparities between racial and ethnic groups , .
The existence of both individual and systemic racism within STEM institutions, as well as the role of scientists and medical professionals in perpetuating broader systems of racial inequity, have been thoroughly documented. It is our responsibility as scientists to acknowledge this body of evidence, take action to promote racial equity in our workplaces, and examine the impacts of our research on society.
 An open letter: Scientists and racial justice (The Scientist, 2020)
 Blacks in STEM jobs are especially concerned about diversity and discrimination in the workplace (Pew Research Center, 2018)
 Racial microaggressions in the life experiences of Black Americans
(Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 2008)
 Race, gender, and bodily (mis)recognitions: Women of color faculty experiences with white students in the college classroom (The Journal of Higher Education, 2011)
 (Re)Defining departure: Exploring black professors’ experiences with and responses to racism and racial climate (American Journal of Education, 2011)
 Undergraduate teaching faculty; The HERI faculty survey 2016-2017 (Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, 2019)
 Forms of racism (Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre)
 NCSES survey of earned documents (NSF, 2016): Table of doctorate recipients by subfield of study, citizenship status, ethnicity, and race
 Representation and salary gaps by race-ethnicity and gender at selective public universities (Educational Researcher, 2017)
 Five Years of Tech Diversity Reports—and Little Progress (Wired, 2019)
 How gender and race stereotypes impact the advancement of scholars in STEM: Professors’ biased evaluations of physics and biology post-doctoral candidates (Sex Roles, 2019)
 Race, ethnicity, and NIH research awards (Science, 2011)
 Women from some under-represented minorities are given too few talks world’s largest Earth-science conference (Nature, 2019)
 Baccalaureate and beyond: A look at the employment and educational experiences of college graduates, 1 year later (U.S. Department of Education, 2019)
 Science and engineering indicators 2018 (NSF National Science Board, 2018)
 Research ethics timeline (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, 2020)
 More than Tuskegee: Understanding Mistrust about Research Participation (Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 2010)
 Diversity and inclusion in genomic research: why the uneven progress?
(Journal of Community Genetics, 2017)
 Impact of limited population diversity on genome-wide association studies (Genetics in Medicine, 2010)
 Best strategies to recruit and enroll elderly Blacks into clinical and biomedical research (Clinical Interventions in Aging, 2018)
 More minorities needed in clinical trials to make research relevant to all (Association of American Medical Colleges, 2016)
 Racial bias in pain assessment and treatment recommendations, and false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites (PNAS, 2016)
 Mind the Gap: a handbook of clinical signs on black and brown skin (St George’s University of London 2020)
 Health, United States, 2015: With special feature on racial and ethnic health disparities (National Center for Health Statistics, 2015)
 How we fail black patients in pain (Association of American Medical Colleges, 2020)
 U.S. Census Quick Facts (2019)
 African Americans & Hispanics among physics & astronomy faculty
(American Institute of Physics, 2014)
 American Society for Engineering Education, 2018
 Statistical abstract of undergraduate programs in the mathematical sciences in the United States (Conference Board of Mathematical Sciences, 2005)