Double Bind: Women of Color in STEM

by Kelley Reardon

Duke University’s Center for International and Global Studies welcomed Ruthie Lyle, Ph.D. on February 6th, 2019 to discuss the challenges faced by minority women in the science, technolog, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields in a Wednesdays at the Center lecture. Lyle focused on the advantages, challenges, and future outlook for minority women in STEM.

Lyle is an engineer, innovator, and entrepreneur who has had to overcome a double bind while navigating her career. Lyle defines the double bind as the unique challenges minority women face as they simultaneously experience sexism and racism in their STEM experience.

Scientists and engineers working in S&E: 2015

Lyle shared her experiences as a doctoral student and a professional. She cited statistics from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to relay her message. Graphs revealed extremely low numbers of minorities and women in science and engineering, where (according to NSF) white men make up 49% of the professionals.

Lyle also emphasized the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley, one of the largest incubators for new technology businesses today. “This is not a women’s issue or a minority women’s issue in isolation, nor will it command a solution exclusively presented by said groups alone,” said Lyle. She knows that there are minority women with excellent STEM skills, and that those women need access to more opportunities.

Lyle recommends various strategies for retention and success in supporting minority women in STEM. These strategies include academic preparation, successful role models, supportive and diverse environments, satisfying work, social and community engagement, and diversified faculty in academia. Lyle emphasized the most important strategy: to “reach back and pull up,” to help younger generations.