challenging circumstances” (Liefshitz et al., 2011, 14). Focused and comparative difference research may provide information about individual and collective strategies that may be used to overcome challenges and increase the odds of success for greater numbers of women of color.
Previous research suggests that women of color face a “double bind” for having two identities that are especially undervalued in STEM contexts: that of being female and a racial minority (Ginther and Kahn, 2012; Liefshitz et al., 2011). Instead of a double disadvantage, some researchers have found that the intersection of both gender and race is reflected in women of color’s unique perceptions of the workplace in academia (Aguirre et al., 1993) and that their professional experiences in STEM are qualitatively different than that of men and of white women (Liefshitz et al., 2011). Reay (2007, 607) offers yet another potential hypothesis: “Different aspects of self become more prominent in some contexts than in others.” In some situations, one identity is foregrounded and the other muted, whereas in other contexts the reverse may be true. The theoretical and empirical challenge for researchers is to consider both conceptions of difference and structural inequalities.
Research has shown that women and individuals from ethnic minority groups are less satisfied with the academic workplace and have a higher probability of leaving the academy early in their careers more compared to their male and white colleagues (Trower and Chait, 2002). However, it is uncertain whether women of color are even more likely than ethnic minority men or white women to leave the academy early in their STEM careers and whether their reasons for leaving coincide with or differ from those reported by the other groups. With the few exceptions noted in this paper, most studies have not disaggregated faculty data to focus specifically on the experiences of women of color.
The purpose of this paper is to explore the experiences of underrepresented women of color in academia. We compare URM women with STEM colleagues in terms of sources of stress, workload demands, and satisfaction. Although there are few sources of quantitative data that have a large enough sample size to make definitive statements about STEM women of color as a group, the national faculty surveys administered triennially by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) at the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), represent an excellent repository of information that begins to shed light on how URM women are unique from or share similarities with white and Asian women in STEM and their URM male counterparts. Because hundreds of colleges and universities have taken the HERI faculty survey over the years and because raw data and reports are given to all participating institutions to use in their institutional planning and reporting, these data could be useful in gaining a better understanding of URM women’s work–life experiences and improving the environments for all underrepresented groups in STEM.
HERI employs a stratified institutional sampling scheme for all of its surveys to ensure representation that reflects all nonprofit, postsecondary institutions. Four-year colleges and universities identified as part of the national population are divided into 20 stratification groups based on type (four-year college, university), control (public, private nonsectarian, Roman Catholic, other religious), and selectivity in admissions defined as the median SAT Verbal and Math scores (or ACT composite score) of the first-time first-year students. The methodology for the surveys are described in two reports on nationally normed data by institution type, gender,