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

    Russian-Backed Offensive in Syria Pushes War to Tipping Point

    As threat to Aleppo and rebel forces grows, US plan to negotiate becomes less and less appealing for Syrian government, says one military analyst

    IS Runs Timber Smuggling Business in Afghanistan, Officials Say

    Government turning blind eye to smuggling, according to tribal leaders; Afghanistan's forest cover dropped by 50 percent in three decades, experts say

    Video White House Seeks $1.8 Billion to Combat Zika

    Obama administration says funding would 'support essential strategies to combat the virus' such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs, accelerating vaccine research

    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.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.