An engineer who was fired by Google GOOG, -2.02% for circulating an anti-diversity memo sued the company in January, alleging that the tech giant discriminates against white, conservative men. He’s likely not alone in that belief.
There are other white men working in tech who believe their gender and race are making it difficult for them to get ahead, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center about diversity in the science and technology fields.
Pew asked a nationally representative sample of white men with jobs in science, technology, math and engineering (or STEM) fields whether they thought their gender made it harder for them to succeed. Of the 14% who said yes, more than 1 in 10 said they had been affected by reverse discrimination.
When Pew posed a similar question about race to the survey respondents, nearly 20% of those who said race made their job harder cited reverse discrimination as the reason for their challenges.
Data on men dominating Silicon Valley jobs tell a very different story
Of course, data, including much of the rest of the Pew report released in January, indicates that women and minorities are under-represented in many STEM fields. Women make up about half of STEM workers overall and account for a large share of workers in certain fields, like health care, according to the Pew study.
But in sectors like computer science, women account for a small share of workers. Black and Hispanic workers make up just 9% and 7% of the STEM workforce respectively, though they account for 11% and 16% of the U.S. workforce overall.
Those who believe they experience reverse discrimination are unwavering
Despite these trends, there are a variety of factors that may make white men in STEM perceive themselves as victims of discrimination. Men have a tendency to believe that decreasing bias against women is associated with increasing bias against men, said Clara Wilkins, a professor at Wesleyan University who studies the psychology behind reverse discrimination.
“There’s this perception of a zero sum relationship, men and women are in competition,” she said. “So if things are better for women, things are worse than men.” Other research indicates whites perceive a similar relationship to minority groups.
Though women and black and Hispanic workers may still face discrimination in STEM, there are reasons for white men to believe that bias against these groups is decreasing. The Pew findings come amid a national reckoning over the obstacles women and minority groups are forced to dodge as they work their way up the career ladder — challenges that can be particularly formidable in the male and white dominated tech industry. Popular culture, business leaders and others appear to be embracing the conversation.
The Pew survey indicates that some white and some male STEM workers believe they’re being harmed by this move towards gender and racial parity.
Here’s what some white males said about reverse discrimination
“As a white male nothing is a given now, you have to fight harder to overcome institutional and government reverse discrimination.” – White man, industrial and medical engineer, 55
“White males are an undesirable classification currently in environments seeking the managed utopia of balance and ‘diversity.’” – White man, computer worker, 52
“Today the white male is the enemy. I’ve seen too many qualified white males passed over for promotions or advancement in favor of a woman and/or minority. Qualifications don’t matter these days, rather your gender and race matter.” – White man, engineer, 47
Women are outperforming men in colleges and graduate schools
In addition to a focus on diversity in STEM fields specifically, there are other broader forces that may be pushing white or male workers to perceive they’re losing ground. The election of President Barack Obama “was a really salient focal point in perceiving that bias against racial minorities is decreasing,” Wilkins said.
And education and economic data — which suggest women are getting farther in school and having better luck in the job market — can also fuel men’s perception that bias against women is decreasing at their expense.
Despite these feelings, there’s little evidence that reverse discrimination actually exists. Even programs like affirmative action, which typically look to have schools and institutions mirror the population at large, benefit white men in some cases, Wilkins said.
On average, women do better in school, but in order to have some semblance of gender parity, colleges will seek to admit less-qualified men in some cases.
“There is this perception that programs like affirmative action are biased against whites,” she said. “Even that is not a simple case.”
This story was updated on April 4, 2018.