Who gets heard during a meeting, who gets career-enhancing assignments, who gets honest feedback — all of this can be influenced by subtle bias. The Society of Women Engineers’ (SWE) executed their latest study, Climate Control: Gender and Racial Bias in Engineering, to understand the effect of implicit bias in the workplace and encourage more dialogue on the topic among senior leaders.

The study was executed in partnership with Joan C. Williams, Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of California, Hastings College of Law and Founding Director of the Center for WorkLife Law. The study focused on four basic patterns of implicit bias — Prove-It-Again, Tightrope, Maternal Wall and Tug of War — within the engineering workforce.

Asserting for recognition

The results of the study suggest that workplace climate is tougher for women and people of color as compared with white men. For example, among the more than 3,000 respondents, women and people of color were more likely than white men to report that they felt they needed to prove themselves more to get the same levels of respect and recognition as their colleagues. In addition, white men were more likely than women and people of color to report that they could behave assertively in the workplace without pushback.

"...workplace climate is tougher for women and people of color as compared with white men."

The most surprising thing about the survey is that nearly one-third of respondents to the study offered comments, many of which provided examples of bias they’ve experienced first-hand. The findings confirmed decades of research and allowed SWE’s research partners to examine whether what’s been reported in social psychology labs goes on in actual workplaces. It often does.

Fleeing the workforce

The results of Climate Control: Gender and Racial Bias in Engineering complement SWE’s similar Gender Culture Study focusing on culture within the engineering workplace and differences between male and female personal and workplace priorities, including the gaps that are driving female attrition. The data shows that men and women have more similarities than differences across their personal, current culture and desired culture values, but females report more misalignment across the values than male colleagues — driving them to leave the workforce.

Both of SWE’s recent studies on bias and culture within the workplace confirm many of the insights we already know — women and people of color struggle to gain distinction within the engineering space which is very much still dominated by men. These results can be reflected in industries outside of engineering as well. Research like this is pivotal in order to encourage more dialogue on the topic of implicit bias and inspire and drive change in the engineering profession and beyond.