Mia Ong, Lily Ko, and HA.K. Hodari
—E. H. Branch (Ed.), Pathways, Potholes, and the Persistence of Women in Science: Reconsidering the Pipeline. Lexington, MA (pp. 183-195). Lanham, MD: Lexington PressBooks. (In press).
Women of color are widely considered to be valuable sources of talent to fill U.S. science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) occupations. However, they are continually underrepresented in advanced degree attainment and leadership positions relative to their male and White female counterparts. To explore factors of persistence and success, the NSF-funded Beyond the Double Bind study elicited life stories from 22 women of color with bachelor's and advanced degrees in physics or astronomy, two of the most exclusive STEM fields. The study found that these women commonly experienced social isolation, yet they were not passive victims of their departmental cultures. To persist in science, they employed multiple forms of agency, including eight navigational strategies: seeking an environment that enabled success, circumventing unsupportive advisors, combating isolation using peer networks, consciously demonstrating abilities to counteract doubt, finding safe spaces for their whole selves, getting out to stay in STEM, remembering their passion for science, and engaging in activism. These findings point to specific barriers that could have been remedied by institutional change so that the large amount of time and energy minority women invested in strategies for persistence could have been spent doing science. Since relying on women of color to adjust their actions and behaviors to survive existing STEM climates is not a long-term solution, the article concludes with recommendations for two groups: women of color who seek to succeed in STEM fields, and institutions of higher education and employers dedicated to retaining women of color and broadening participation in STEM.Download article