Join us for this noon chat, March 24 as the MMSLN continues discussions of Equity in Science.
Can the culture of STEM help reproduce inequality? The professional cultures of STEM, which give each discipline its particular “feel” and unite discipline members under a taken-for-granted system of meanings and values, are not benign. Drawing from several NSF-funded survey and interview-based studies, I argue that these professional cultures can have built within them disadvantages for women, racial/ethnic minorities, and LGBTQ persons in STEM. Specifically, I discuss the role of three particular cultural ideologies—schemas of scientific excellence, depoliticization, and the meritocratic ideology—in producing these disadvantages.
Erin Cech joined the sociology department in 2016. Before coming to the University of Michigan, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University and was on faculty at Rice University. She earned her Ph.D. in Sociology in 2011 from the University of California, San Diego and undergraduate degrees in Electrical Engineering and Sociology from Montana State University.
Cech’s research examines cultural mechanisms of inequality reproduction–specifically, how inequality is reproduced through processes that are not overtly discriminatory or coercive, but rather those that are built into seemingly innocuous cultural beliefs and practices. She investigates this puzzle through three avenues of research. First, she uses quantitative and qualitative approaches to examine inequality in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professions–specifically, the recruitment and retention of women, LGBT, and under-represented racial/ethnic minority students and practitioners and the role of professional cultures in this inequality. Second, Cech examines how cultural definitions of “good work” and “good workers” can anchor inequality in the workforce. For example, she examines the role of the “passion principle” in the reproduction of occupational inequalities: how seemingly voluntary and self-expressive career decisions help reproduce processes like occupational sex segregation. Finally, she studies how cultural understandings of the extent and origin of inequality help to uphold unequal social structures. Cech’s research is funded by multiple grants from the National Science Foundation. She is a member of the editorial board of the American Sociological Review and her research has been cited in The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Time, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Forbes, Chronicle of Higher Education and the news sections of Science and Nature.