Intersectionality in STEMM: Ethnic, racial and religious minorities

Intersectionality describes how gender equity is impacted by race and other socio-economic factors, such as culture, religion, sexuality, disability, age, class, location and more.

Experiences of ethnic, racial and religious minority people in STEMM

Research has shown that people from ethnic minorities, particularly women, are often systemically under-recognised and can struggle to have their perspectives heard. Micro-inequities such as subtle and unconscious processes of exclusion or of being overlooked, and microaggressions – disrespectful, ignorant or biased attitudes, comments, “jokes”, and negative evaluations from line managers or students – can have a cumulative and debilitating effect over the course of a career.

A 2015 report on the experiences of US women of color in STEMM found that almost half of Black and Latina women have been mistaken for custodial staff in their workplaces. Black women (77%) were more likely to report having to prove themselves as skilled repeatedly to colleagues than other groups of women (63-64%). Asian-American women reported pushback for assertiveness at higher rates (61%) than other groups of women (47-53%). On the other hand, there is solid evidence that simultaneous attention to diversity and gender equity can reap substantial benefits in productivity, innovation and profitability for organisations.

While the precise intersectional patterns of gender and ethnicity are different in the Australian context, attention to these intersectional consequences will likewise reap significant benefits for STEMM in Australia.

You can try to ignore it just to keep your sanity and move on, but the biases that are there are prevalent. And closing your eyes to them will not make them disappear.
– Asian-American woman in Geology, from Double Jeopardy report (p.8)

Analysis of intersectionality for the Athena SWAN Bronze Award

The Athena SWAN Bronze Institutional Award application asks institutions to review existing policies, practices and programs with the aim of laying a solid foundation for addressing the intersections of gender with other aspects of identity, including ethnicity, race and religion.

Attention to the needs of Indigenous Australians in STEMM should be incorporated throughout the application, as well as being addressed in depth in Section 7 “Intersectionality”.

The application does not require quantitative data on intersectionality. If, following consultation, the institution decides to collect data on gender and ethnic, racial and/or religious identity, robust consideration must be given to anonymity, confidentiality, data protection and secure storage.

Institutions are asked to consider in their submission:

  1. Current policy and practice
  2. Monitoring
  3. Further work

Current policy and practice

The Athena SWAN Bronze Institutional application asks institutions to review whether existing gender equity policies support issues of intersectionality.

Section 7(i) “Previous sections should have considered how intersectionality impacts on gender equity. That is, reflecting an understanding of how gender outcomes are affected by interconnected issues such as sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, disability discrimination, classism and ageism. Review whether existing gender equity policies enable the institution to address intersectionality in STEMM, or otherwise identify how policies and practices might better support gender diversity and inclusion in STEMM with regards to intersectionality.

Engagement with representative groups
Consider building engagement with groups representative diverse groups of staff and students, such as cultural diversity networks, international students groups and religious representatives:

  • Consulting with representative groups to understand key issues ethnic, racial and religious inclusion in STEMM and how these relate to gender equity
  • Working with representatives to evaluate existing gender equity policies and programs
  • Building engagement into process of action planning for Athena SWAN
Consider needs of diverse groups in gender equity policies and programs
Consider building specific strategies for supporting the inclusion of ethnic, racial and religious minority staff into gender equity programs. Institutions could consider the following strategies:

  • Incorporate a focus on ethnic, racial and religious inclusion into broader gender equity initiatives such as unconscious bias training
  • Build cultural awareness training into gender equity mentoring programs
  • Consider ethnic, racial and religious diversity alongside gender when examining composition of senior decision-making committees
  • Develop training strategies for committee chairs that focus on inclusiveness for both gender and ethnic diversity to ensure diverse voices are heard in all committees, including decision-making bodies
  • Examine arrangements for leave and flexible working could include particular consideration of culturally appropriate leave, such as leave for significant religious holidays
  • Analyse infrastructure needs such as prayer rooms


The Athena SWAN Bronze Institutional application requires the development of methods that an institution will use to measure and enhance the experiences of under-represented groups.

Section 7(ii) “Consider how the institution will boost awareness of intersectionality within STEMM. Analyse how the institution will ensure under-represented groups with intersecting identities do not experience unfair treatment at the institution. Assess how the educational, research and professional needs of under-represented STEMM faculty, staff and students will be met more effectively.”

Raising awareness

Research evidence suggests that ethnic minority women are systematically underestimated in their knowledge, skills, authority and achievements, and are often under pressure to re-establish their credentials. On the other hand, creating an inclusive culture can substantially enhance the well being, productivity and opportunities for women from minority backgrounds. Strategies could include:

  • Promoting an understanding of intersectional issues facing women and gender minorities from ethnic, racial and religious minority backgrounds to leaders and staff in STEMM areas
  • Analysing publicity, visual and promotional material to ascertain how effectively they embrace and celebrate ethnic, racial and religious diversity
  • Considering ethnic, racial and religious diversity alongside gender equity when identifying speakers and media opportunities among STEMM staff
  • Considering other ways the institution values, rewards, promotes and gives prominence to women and gender minorities from ethnic, racial and religious minority backgrounds in STEMM
Supporting careers

Extensive research highlights that many women from ethnic, racial and religious minority backgrounds face significant educational and employment disadvantages, including in STEMM. Institutions could consider:

  • Reviewing recruitment policies and processes to identify their relevance and appeal in attracting applicants from diverse backgrounds
  • Reviewing and evaluating career development opportunities to address their accessibility, uptake, cultural relevance and outcomes for women and gender minorities from ethnically diverse backgrounds
  • Considering achievements relative to opportunity for diverse groups such as humanitarian migrants, recent migrants, people from economically disadvantaged ethnic minorities, people from non-English speaking backgrounds, and religious minorities
  • Addressing barriers of language and overly-restrictive credential requirements where possible in recruitment and professional development practices

Further work

Athena SWAN requires an evaluation of how institutions will boost the career and leadership opportunities of minorities.

Section 7(iii) “Evaluate how the institution will create opportunities to raise the participation, recruitment, promotion, retention, recognition and leadership potential of under-represented groups within STEMM over time.”

Fostering leaders

Fostering role models from among under-recognised groups can help develop a sense of belonging and identification among ethnic minority students and junior staff. Institutions could consider:

  • Analysis of leadership programs and to address their accessibility, uptake, cultural relevance and outcomes for ethnic, racial and religious minorities, particularly women and gender minorities
  • Development and evaluation of targetted leadership programs and policies for ethnic, racial and religious minority groups, and their appropriateness and value for women and gender minorities
  • Whether measures of institutional recognition – including promotions, awards and honours and leadership positions – are evenly or unevenly distributed across these groups
Diversifying research and teaching

Evidence suggests that drawing on diverse benefits innovation in research and teaching. Institutions could consider:

  • How diverse perspectives, including from women and gender minorities from diverse ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds, are informing the development of diversified research initiatives and programs in STEMM
  • How teaching might build on the innovation of diverse perspectives, including of women and gender minorities from diverse ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds.


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Hawley, C. E., et al. (2014). “College Graduation to Employment in STEM Careers: The Experience of New Graduates at the Intersection of Underrepresented Racial/Ethnic Minority Status and Disability.” Rehabilitation Research, Policy, and Education 28(3): 183-199.

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