It’s a familiar stereotype: Asian people are good at math and science. This belief has pervaded American pop culture and media for decades, perhaps best exemplified in a now-infamous 1987 Time magazine cover that showed six young students, sitting behind a computer and books, with the caption “Those Asian American Whiz Kids.”
Since the stereotype ostensibly is a compliment, there’s a temptation to think that pursuing careers in science, technology, math, and engineering is easier for Asian Americans. Indeed, diversity initiatives in these STEM fields tend to focus solely on supporting African Americans and Latinos. But often the opposite is true.
In recent years, the authors of this article, alongside our colleagues at the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, have investigated gender and racial biases that pervade STEM professions. Our research has found that Asian Americans, especially women, often face significant career hurdles tied to perceptions about ethnicity and race.
For one approach, we developed a 10-minute survey that picks up major patterns of racial and gender bias. When we gave an early version to more than 3,000 American engineers, Asian American men and women were much more likely than white men to report that they had to prove themselves more than their colleagues. Most of the 3,000 respondents were women, which makes it hard to draw conclusions about Asian American men. But our data are clear that Asian American women, at least, face the same kind of “prove it again” bias that has been documented for decades in studies of women and black people. Despite being stereotyped as competent, Asian American women still report that they have to provide more evidence of competence than white men in order to be seen as equal.