News / USA

Stereotypes Deter Women From Becoming Scientists

A Thai scientist looks through a florescent microscope to identify influenza virus cells at the World Health Organization Influenza Center in Bangkok, October 21, 2005.
A Thai scientist looks through a florescent microscope to identify influenza virus cells at the World Health Organization Influenza Center in Bangkok, October 21, 2005.
Across the globe, fewer women are enrolling in college science programs or working in the science and technology sectors and education experts are blaming the problem on stereotypes about what a scientist looks like.
 
In some scientific fields, women represent less than 30 percent of student enrollments and about the same percentage of the workforce, according to a global study of the issue.
 
x
​That study, the Gender Equality and the Knowledge Society Scoreboard, was in part carried out by the Women in Global Science and Technology, a non-profit policy and research group. The study described the percentage of women in the sciences as “alarmingly low.”   
 
“Women are severely underrepresented in degree programs in science and technology,” said Sophia Huyer, executive director of Women in Global Science and Technology.
 
Huyer said women in the countries surveyed, including the United States and the European Union, represented less than 30 percent of physics and engineering enrollments and around 30 percent or less of the science and technology workforce. The only exception is in biosciences and life sciences where women hover around 50 percent.
 
A September 19, 2011 photo shows a second-year chemistry doctoral student working at Kline Chemistry Laboratory at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.A September 19, 2011 photo shows a second-year chemistry doctoral student working at Kline Chemistry Laboratory at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
x
A September 19, 2011 photo shows a second-year chemistry doctoral student working at Kline Chemistry Laboratory at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
A September 19, 2011 photo shows a second-year chemistry doctoral student working at Kline Chemistry Laboratory at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
Corinne Moss-Racusin, a Yale University postdoctoral associate did a recent study on bias in the sciences and concluded that more women at lower professional levels are stuck in their careers, even after getting their Ph.D. degrees. “They’re not supported or encouraged to remain in the… field in the same way as perhaps that men are,” she said.
 
Moss-Racusin’s work also indicated that women professors and bosses were as likely to exhibit gender bias against female students as men. She said this is due to traditional gender stereotypes that frame science as masculine and women scientists as less competent.
 
Citing another study, Toni Schmader, Canada Research Chair in Social Psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, said “students who take more math and science with male instructors develop strong math-equals-male biases over the course of their first year in university.
 
“You might say that our implicit biases are the stuff the glass ceiling is made of,” Schmader added.

The impressionable brain

While most people would probably deny being biased, Lisa Wade of Occidental College in California said, “every single time we see a scientist as a man, our brain records that. Or every time we see scientific items associated with men, our brains record that. It’s the idea that physics is a masculine thing to do – our brain records all of this.”
 
So for a female scientist, Wade said success means “a certain kind of masculinity that, when women perform it, they’re seen as non-likable and when they don’t perform it, they’re seen as incompetent.”
 
Wade, chair of Occidental College's sociology department, said she was not surprised by these trends, noting that women’s progress has been stalling, at least in the United States, since the 1990s. She cited two reasons: first, that while women have been encouraged to go out and work, no comparable revolution has occurred to encourage men to stay home.
 
“And the other is because, I believe, we’ve had a cultural backlash against it,” she added. “The idea that women should continue to get married and have children and that once they have children they have primary responsibility for those children - that’s a big problem in terms of slowing women down and reaching equity with men.”
 
And that is the perception in many parts of the world - that “women are supposed to get married and have children and not participate in the workforce or the public life of their country,” said Huyer, citing the example of Korea, where women attend school in equal or higher numbers than men, but they then get married and stay home. 
 
“Countries are supporting women to get into the sciences - even though it’s not equal levels - they’re supporting them, they’re paying for them …but then they’re not getting into the workforce,” Huyer said. This is a waste of investment and talent, particularly for developing countries that educate their workforce and then lose them to the developed world. “They really can’t afford to ignore the abilities of half their population,” she said.
 
Students work on their lessons at the former dental school of Savita Halappanavar in Belgaum in the southern Indian state of Karnatakam, November 16, 2012.Students work on their lessons at the former dental school of Savita Halappanavar in Belgaum in the southern Indian state of Karnatakam, November 16, 2012.
x
Students work on their lessons at the former dental school of Savita Halappanavar in Belgaum in the southern Indian state of Karnatakam, November 16, 2012.
Students work on their lessons at the former dental school of Savita Halappanavar in Belgaum in the southern Indian state of Karnatakam, November 16, 2012.
Huyer said this is true in many parts of Asia, with the exception of India, where women have higher rates of participation in biosciences, health sciences, and medical fields.
 
Nevertheless, certain biases do show up in India. Science student Souvik GT said a university staff member told a female student who is getting married and plans to continue her studies after marriage, What’s the use of studying after marriage? You are getting married, now you can leave college and carry on with your full time ‘wife duty.’”

Is science masculine?
 
But in many cases, Huyer said girls are reluctant to go into science “because they say they can’t do math as well - they’re not good at physics; they’re not good at this; they’re no good at that. And in many countries … the perception is that men are much better at these skills, which we know is not true.”
 
But Jill Payne McDonald, a chemist in the United States, said this isn’t sexism. “If one does not display confidence in his or her abilities, no one else will either,” she said. McDonald noted that she has often seen men with less experience or abilities promoted over women with greater experience and abilities, but with less confidence in themselves.
 
Some studies have suggested women are interested in exploring career options in male-dominated fields like computer science, for example, if stereotypes of computer scientists were different.
 
Changing stereotypes and biases requires individuals to be aware of their biases. “It requires a reeducation of at least that individual,” said Occidental’s Wade. “On a societal level, what we have to do is stop associating science with men and masculinity … so that our brains don’t develop that structure in the first place.”
 
Even when aware, Schmader said individuals have to be motivated to get beyond their assumptions of what a scientist is supposed to look like.

You May Like

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid