Objectivity and neutrality are central goals of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professions. Also common within STEM is the belief that “social,” “cultural,” or “political” concerns should be stripped from STEM in order to protect that objectivity and neutrality. I argue that such a belief—which I call the ideology of depoliticization—frames concerns about inequality and diversity as tangential or even polluting to STEM work. This belief does not reflect reality, however, as STEM work is always already cultural and social. In this talk, I ask: How might this belief actually serve as a mechanism of inequality? And How does the prevalence of this belief in STEM workplaces affect the experiences of historically marginalized groups? Using a novel set of national surveys of U.S. STEM professionals, I examine the effect of working in an organization or department where this belief is particularly strong in the workplace culture. About a third of STEM professionals believe diversity concerns do not belong in STEM and undermine one’s credibility and objectivity. I find that working in an organization where co-workers strongly adhere to this ideology helps explain the greater levels of marginalization and devaluation that women, people of color, and LGBTQ STEM professionals experience at work. These results indicate that this perspective is not just a belief that helps undermine the case for STEM diversity and inclusion. It has pervasive consequences for the day-to-day work experiences of historically marginalized groups.
Erin Cech's seminar will be followed by an EER social from 4:00-4:30 pm. We hope you can join us for both activities, but feel free to come when you can. BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH: Dr. Erin Cech is an assistant professor in the department of sociology at U-M. Prior to joining U-M, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Clayman Institute at Stanford University and was on faculty at Rice University. She earned BS degrees in Electrical Engineering and Sociology from Montana State University. Cech’s research seeks to uncover cultural mechanisms of inequality reproduction—particularly around gender, sexual identity and racial/ethnic inequality in STEM. Her research has been cited in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chronicle of Higher Education, and the news sections of Science and Nature.