Ideological Roadblocks to Diversifying STEM: Resistance and Allyship in STEM Diversity and Inclusion Efforts
This project centers the cultural belief systems that help the most powerful social group in STEM resist DEI efforts. Findings from this study will identify specific cultural narratives that serve as cultural scaffolds for resistance to DEI efforts and test intervention strategies that may help deconstruct these ideological roadblocks.
Much research on inequality in STEM has focused on the bias and discrimination by dominant groups toward women, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals. Yet, direct acts of prejudice are not the only way dominant group members may perpetuate inequality in STEM: their resistance to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)-related efforts in their organizations and professions may be formidable but understudied obstacles to the diversification of STEM. Such resistance blocks both the efficacious implementation of existing DEI efforts the development of new ones that make deeper structural and cultural change. This project investigates resistance to DEI efforts in STEM among the population with the greatest structural and cultural power: white heterosexual men (WHM). While many WHM are actively committed to antiracist, antisexist, and antihomophobic action, others may disagree with, or even actively resist, DEI efforts in their organizations and professions.
In this project we ask, how do WHM understand DEI efforts in STEM? What cultural schemas do they use to justify their resistance to (or support for) DEI efforts? Using an innovative combination of survey data analysis (SIS survey, N=25,376 STEM professionals), interviews with a representative sample of WHM in STEM (N=120), and a survey experiment (N=1,000), we investigate (1) WHM’s resistance to DEI efforts relative to their peers, (2) document the cultural schemas that WHM use to frame their resistance (and their allyship), and (3) test interventions that attempt to destabilize WHM’s adherence to these roadblock schemas and, by extension, their resistance to DEI efforts.
We theorize that the most common, and most powerful, roadblock schemas are those that frame resistance to DEI efforts as a defense of the intellectual integrity, purity, and/or ingenuity of the profession. Such schemas may cast DEI efforts as polluting “real” science and antithetical to technical content. These roadblock schemas may serve as more culturally palatable forms of DEI resistance than overtly biased perspectives. Understanding the cultural frames that powerful social groups use to defend their privilege and resist change is vital for overcoming these stalls to diversification and advancing antiracist, antisexist, and antihomophobic efforts in STEM.
This project breaks important ground in inequality in STEM research by systematically documenting the cultural schemas that frame resistance to and support for DEI efforts among the most privileged and powerful sociodemographic group in STEM. Although past literatures have theorized individual cultural schemas (e.g., depoliticization) that may help perpetuate inequality, this project will document the landscape of cultural schemas that WHM use to make sense of and resist DEI efforts. The proposed project will map this landscape, conceptualize and operationalize the distinct schemas that make up this landscape, and test several intervention strategies for challenging these roadblock schemas. Beyond inequality in STEM literatures, this project will contribute to sociology of inequality, cultural sociology, and sociology of professions literature by illustrating how cultural narratives about a profession’s integrity and purity, which seem on their face to be a degree removed from issues of inclusion or inequality, can serve as powerful tools of resistance to STEM diversification. This project will underscore the need for inequality scholars to take seriously the cultural belief systems within their professional cultures as possible sources of resistance to DEI efforts.
Despite millions of dollars invested each year in STEM DEI efforts, racial, gender, and LGBTQ diversification of STEM has stalled over the last two decades. The proposed project takes a novel approach to understanding this stalling the perpetuation of sociodemographic privilege among dominant groups. This project centers the cultural belief systems that help the most powerful social group in STEM resist DEI efforts. Findings from this study will identify specific cultural narratives that serve as cultural scaffolds for resistance to DEI efforts and test intervention strategies that may help deconstruct these ideological roadblocks. This project will offer critical insights that will help academic institutions, workplaces, and professional societies design strategies to overcome those roadblocks and promote effective DEI efforts.
National Science Foundation
Funding Period: 7/1/2021 to 6/30/2024
National Science Foundation
Erin Ann Cech
7/1/2021 to 6/30/2024