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

Australia Knights Prince Philip, Sparking National Outrage

Abbott's surprise reintroduction of knights and dames in the country's honors system last year drew criticism that he was out of touch with national sentiment More

SAG Award Boosts 'Birdman' Oscar Hopes

Individual acting Oscars appear to be sewn up: SAG awards went to artists who won Golden Globes: Julianne Moore, Eddie Redmayne, Patricia Arquette, J.K. Simmons More

Katy Perry Lights Way for Super Bowl's Girl Power Moment

Pop star's selection to headline US football championship's halftime show extends NFL's trend of selecting artists who appeal to younger viewers 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.
Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sidesi
X
June Soh
January 23, 2015 10:03 PM
The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, even music are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. Faith Lapidus narrates a report from VOA’s June Soh.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, even music are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. Faith Lapidus narrates a report from VOA’s June Soh.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid