Seminar Series | Professional Cultures and Inequality in STEM

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Erin Cech March 26


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. I end by explaining why decisions (e.g. admissions, hiring, tenure) that partially rely on assessments of individuals’ “fit” with professional cultures are particularly important to critically examine for their potential to contribute to inequality.


Dr. Erin Cech is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Michigan. Before coming to Michigan in 2016, 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 UC San Diego and undergraduate degrees in Electrical Engineering and Sociology from Montana State University. Cech's research examines cultural mechanisms of inequality reproduction--especially through seemingly innocuous cultural beliefs and practices. Her work on inequality in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professions focuses on the recruitment and retention of women, people of color, and LGBTQ-identifying persons in STEM degree programs and STEM jobs. Cech’s work is funded by multiple grants from the National Science Foundation. Her research has appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Journal of Sociology, and the American Sociological Review. Her research has been covered by The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Time, Harvard Business Review, and the news sections of Science and Nature. In 2020, she was named one of Business Equality Magazine’s “40 LGBTQ+ Leaders Under 40” and was honored with the University of Michigan’s prestigious Henry Russel Award.


About the EED Seminar Series

Registration is required prior to each seminar. SP21 seminars will take place via remote video conferencing. A link and password to each seminar will be sent once you register. Each seminar will be held live and may be recorded for archival and marketing purposes. If you have questions regarding this seminar series, please contact Dr. David Delaine

Category: Seminar Series