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Why So Few?

Date Published
March 4, 2018

Sidebar to the article The Importance of Diversity and Inclusion in the Forensic Sciences, by Iris R. Wagstaff and Gerald LaPorte, published in NIJ Journal issue no. 279.

There are several reasons for the underrepresentation of women and racial and ethnic minorities in STEM majors and occupations.[1] These reasons vary based on educational level, scientific discipline, and stage within the STEM pipeline. This lack of representation is not due to lack of ability or interest. Instead, it is primarily due to discouragement at every juncture along the educational and career development pathway, as documented in a 2010 survey conducted by the Bayer Corporation.[2]

At the K-12 level, it is in the form of teachers who discourage students from diverse backgrounds on the basis of preconceptions and implicit bias. Students at this level are also discouraged by negative stereotypes and images in printed media and textbooks that exclude them and make them feel like they are not worthy of scientific pursuits.[3] At the undergraduate and graduate levels, discouragement comes from faculty who act as gatekeepers, and hostile department and campus cultures that lead to feelings of inadequacy and loneliness, which are described by the “solo status” and “imposter syndrome” constructs.[4] At the professional level, the discouragement is from the often hostile culture in the workplace, particularly in the physical sciences and engineering.[5]

Women of color in STEM are significantly affected, as documented in the report The Double Bind: The Price of Being a Minority Woman in Science.[6] Moreover, since STEM professions often pay more than non-STEM-related jobs, the STEM enterprise is viewed as a means of economic parity for many students who are not only underrepresented in STEM but are also of low socioeconomic status.[7] Coupled with the fact that many minority and low-income students come from school districts with inadequate science education resources that limit their future aspirations, these students often become discouraged from scientific pursuits. This leads to a limited pool of STEM talent from which the forensic sciences can draw to solve criminal justice problems.

About This Article

This article was published as part of NIJ Journal issue number 270, published April 2018, as a sidebar to the article The Importance of Diversity and Inclusion in the Forensic Sciences, by Iris R. Wagstaff and Gerald LaPorte.

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Access to education Evaluation
Date Published: March 4, 2018