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Study Finds Persistence of Stereotypical Negative Images of Black Women in Tech

By Fay Cobb Payton, Eleni Berki Communications of the ACM, May 2019, Vol. 62 No. 5, Pages 56-63 10.1145/3319422


A new study led by Fay Cobb Payton, a program director in the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering at the National Science Foundation, finds that women in STEM disciplines, particularly Black and Latina women, are still portrayed in stereotypical ways in popular media. The report notes that in 1995, Black women accounted for 5.10 percent of all bachelor’s degree in computer science. By 2014, this figure had dropped to 2.61 percent. In 2012, 70 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded to African Americans in computer science went to men.

The report found that women in tech fields are “portrayed in ways that overemphasize their appearance and sexuality.” They also found that Black women in tech are often referred to as “exceptional” implying that a woman’s achievements are “abnormal.”

The authors conclude that “nonrealistic profiles and nonpositive images of women in the popular media continue to warrant thorough investigation and redirection. Rather than be distracted by stereotypical (negative or controversial) images, researchers and media leaders should focus on the story (re)telling process and untold narratives to capture lived experiences and establish an inclusive climate for those historically underrepresented in the field. Inclusive, realistic role images/models could help increase the number of underrepresented minorities in academia and in the tech work force while strengthening and inspiring entrepreneurial mind-sets and pathways.”

Before joining the National Science Foundation in 2018, Dr. Payton served on the faculty at North Carolina State University. She is a graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology and holds a second bachelor’s degree and an MBA from Clark Atlanta University. Dr. Payton earned a Ph.D. in information and decision systems at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

The full study, “Countering the Negative Image of Women in Computing,” was published by the Association for Computing Machinery. It may be accessed here.

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