The lack of minority representation within academic science means that women of color are often isolated from each other. Isolation limits women of color’s ability to form supportive networks to deal with the stressors that result from bias and discrimination. Isolation can also prevent women of color from creating support networks that may buffer against stressors. We used a grounded approach to explore the extent to which being the “only” woman of color, versus one of a few, mediates the experiences of incivility, harassment, and broader discriminatory practices experienced by science faculty across rank. We ran six focus groups with a total of 15 women of color science faculty at a research-intensive Midwestern university to explore these themes. Our research supports previous findings that women of color of all ranks experience negative workplace experiences such as incivility and harassment, and the exclusion of women of color occurs at both institutional and interpersonal levels. Our findings yielded new insights into how experiences of social isolation lead to the internalization of gaslighting messages that deny or minimize the occurrence of incivility and harassment. We also found that social support helps women to contextualize their experiences, allowing them to recognize and identify it within the broader cultural patterns of sexism and racism. Social exclusion and isolation intensify the negative psychological impact of negative workplace experiences, whereas social support validates women of color’s negative experiences and helps externalize these events. Therefore, we suggest that the level of isolation experienced by women of color faculty can mediate the relationship between negative experiences in academic science and personal and professional outcomes such as mental health and productivity. We use this model of psychological impacts of incivility and harassment to suggest future areas of research regarding women of color in STEM.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021


  • Harassment
  • Incivilities
  • STEM
  • Social support
  • Women of color

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)


Dive into the research topics of '"There's realizing, and then there’s realizing": How social support can counter gaslighting of women of color scientists'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this