Linking intersectional invisibility and hypervisibility to experiences of microaggressions among graduate women of color in STEM

Kerrie G. Wilkins-Yel, Jacqueline Hyman, Nelson O.O. Zounlome

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Given their intersecting identities as both women and people of color within STEM discourses that have been historically shaped to respond to one or the other, women of color are invisible within both (Crenshaw, 1991). These experiences of intersectional invisibility increase the likelihood of being scrutinized, isolated, and marginalized by the dominant group. Thus, exacerbating the chilly STEM climate. Using a nationwide sample of 176 participants, the current study examined microaggressions as an avenue through which women of color are rendered simultaneously invisible and hypervisible in STEM fields. Further, our study explored recommendations for addressing such experiences of microaggressions and intersectional invisibility. The four themes that emerged from participants' microaggressive experiences included: delegitimization of one's skills and expertise, implicit and explicit messages communicating their lack of belonging in STEM, instances where both their voice and physical presence were ignored, and gendered and racialized encounters. Nonetheless, students were encouraged to engage in agentic acts such as cultivating communities of support, internalizing messages of success, and foregrounding reasons for pursuing STEM. Implications are discussed in terms of increasing persistence among women of color in STEM.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-61
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Vocational Behavior
StatePublished - Aug 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Women of color remain largely invisible across all levels of education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. In 2014, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous women represented only 5.34%, 5.24%, and 0.01% of the total doctorate recipients in the physical sciences, engineering, and math, respectively ( National Science Foundation: NSF, 2017 ). However, efforts to broaden participation among women and ethnic minorities in STEM are unquestionably abundant. In 2012 alone, over $911 million dollars were awarded in funding from the National Science Foundation ( Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering: CEOSE, 2014 ). This was a $200 million dollar increase from 2011 ( CEOSE, 2014 ). Additionally, more than three decades of scholarship have been published and countless diversity and inclusion initiatives developed. Despite these efforts to increase women of color, their continued underrepresentation in STEM demonstrates that progress has been exceedingly slow. Moreover, the extant efforts have fallen short in addressing the nuanced experiences of recruiting and retaining people who belong to marginalized racial and gender groups (i.e., women of color). According to Ong, Wright, Espinosa, and Orfield (2011) , “failure to advance the education of women of color… represents a failure of the United States to maximize our own talent pool at a moment when we can ill afford it—socially, technologically, or economically” (p. 173).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Elsevier Inc.


  • Hypervisibility
  • Invisibility
  • Microaggression
  • STEM
  • Women of color

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Applied Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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