Deshauna Barber recently made history when she won the coveted title of Miss USA. Barber holds other official titles, including United States Army lieutenant and IT analyst for the U.S. Department of Commerce.
However, Barber is one of a small percentage of Black women in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. The U.S. Census reports that 11 percent of all employed persons are Black, while only 6 percent of the STEM workforce is Black.
A National Science Foundation study asks the question of STEM workers: Why are women of color in a double bind? The article states women of color are less likely to graduate, earn a degree or choose IT as reasons why minority women aren't in STEM. However, this theory does not necessarily hold truth in other categories of work.
For example, according to 2015 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 11.9 percent of human resource managers are Black, which is higher than the Black population of 11.7 percent. Resource management positions usually require an education. If Black women being uneducated is the reason they are under-represented in STEM, then it is conflicting that another field that requires an education has an adequate number of Blacks employed.
Perhaps there is another underlying issue preventing and discouraging many Black women from working in the sciences: The accounts of actual Black women working in STEM raise concerns about the acceptance of minorities in the field.
Christina Washington* is an IT expert at a federal agency who recently went to school for information technology. Washington was ecstatic to begin the program that would enhance her skills, but quickly found her academic endeavors would be different than projected.
The community college graduate recalls a professor's comment that didn't align with the lesson topic. "During my first year of attending this program, I remember an instructor making references to community colleges by giving the statement that 'Most people who attend community colleges don't always graduate from four-year colleges.' I knew he was directing that statement toward me."
In another account, the former IT student recalls another professor making a joke about her intelligence. "When he called my name, I was purposely ignoring him, because I knew he would be nothing but a distraction for me. I heard the uneasiness in the other students' laughter. They knew I studied hard and was serious about my education. It was no laughing matter."
Likewise, Washington recalls a lack of support from faculty and academic pursuits that were exclusive to minorities and women, such as traveling opportunities.
An IT employee, Akeysha Headly is a quality assurance professional at a worldwide food company who is proud she pushed through adversities as a Black woman.
"I personally remember being in graduate school pursuing my master's in biochemistry and being forced to prove that I belonged there by taking an advanced organic chemistry class that only I had to take, an undergraduate final exam in organic chemistry along with my advanced final, while my peers didn't have that requirement. I remember crying and wanting to give up, but I didn't quit and received an A on both."
Jennifer Thomas* is another Black woman in STEM who worked as a technician for a pharmaceutical company. She recalls losing a promotion to a caucasian man with fewer credentials and less demonstrated success than she had. "The guy was not certified; I was. I was in school getting close to graduating, and he was not in school (and had no degree)."
Thomas continues, "I kept being told that I was rough around the edges, but it would take HR to tell me what I could work on. The guy had been in trouble for harassment and was even suspended. HR gave me no answers. I was a high-volume person on the floor. I had subordinates; he never had subordinates." Since her experience, she has transitioned to the accounting field.
These are only a few accounts from Black women who allege insensitive remarks, baseless promotion rejections and unwarranted requirements as some types of adversity from peers of different backgrounds. Although these allegations can be discouraging for many, some minorities remain hopeful that there will be a growing acceptance of people from all aspects of life.
*Names have been changed for privacy purposes.