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Sapna Cheryan is quoted in this Stanford Social Innovation Review article about the “Concrete Ceiling” for women of color in tech

The Concrete Ceiling

Despite increased dialogue around racial and gender bias and discrimination, women of color struggle to advance in their careers due to the rigidity of unjust systems.

By Hanieh Khosroshahi 

I have spent more than six years working in the technology space as a user-experience researcher and designer. As an immigrant, Muslim-identifying, Iranian-Canadian woman, it didn’t take long to notice that the workplace environments I found myself in were not designed for me, and therefore did not support my career growth and ambition, or accommodate for my unique needs as a woman of color.

For years, companies have framed diversity in tech as a “pipeline” problem—that the reason for the lack of diversity is due to there not being enough qualified talent from different backgrounds. This claim is not only untrue but also dismisses the effects of racism on people’s careers.

Years of workplace anxiety and discrimination have made me realize that the tech industry’s current challenge is not hiring women of color in technology, it’s keeping us there. A 2019 study from the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) found that although the number of women in computing professions has increased since 2017, so has the number of women who leave tech companies and careers.

This should not come as a shock when we think about the systemic discrimination of our patriarchal society and the ways in which it manifests in the tech ecosystem, disproportionately affecting underrepresented women. Unwelcoming environments, stereotypes, and being overlooked for promotions are just some of the reasons women of color leave the sector. Microaggressions, unconscious bias, and lack of representation are effective in upholding and enabling racism and discrimination in the workplace, and women of color regularly endure mansplaining, interruptions, and inappropriate compensation in an industry that has not done enough to level the playing field.

In this article, I explore the barriers to career success that stand in the way of women of color by analyzing how the concepts of “double jeopardy” and “the concrete ceiling” manifest in organizations. I also offer actionable ways in which we can begin to better support women of color in the workplace, across industries and disciplines, in the hope of creating more equitable and inclusive spaces...

The Burden of the ‘Emotional Tax’

In addition to microaggressions, gaslighting, tone policing, and other forms of questioning a woman of color’s “cultural fit,” navigating a system that excludes us and upholds workplace biases jeopardizes not only our careers but also our sense of belonging and psychological safety.

Add to this the mental and emotional burden of working in hostile work environments, it should not come as a surprise that women of color are leaving the tech workforce in alarming numbers. We never felt we belonged in the first place.

In her article on ambient belonging, sociologist Sapna Cheryan argues that while stereotypes affect the retention of women in technical fields, they also work as barriers that prevent women from developing an interest in these fields. “Women’s interest in computer science will depend on the portrayal of computer science environments,” Cheryan explains. “Stereotypical computer science environments will discourage women’s interest in computer science more than non-stereotypical computer science environments.” She argues that altering the environments in which women find themselves can increase their interest in the field.

Read the entire article here.