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

Beloved Lion Killing Sparks Virtual, Real Life Outrage

Twitter, as usual, was epicenter for anger directed at Palmer, with some questioning his manhood, calling for him to be released into the wild More

Video Booming London Property Market a Haven for Dirty Money

Billions of dollars from proceeds of crime, especially from Russia, being laundered through London property market, according to anti-corruption activists More

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

One former Scout leader thinks organization will move past political, social debate, get back to its primary focus of turning boys into good citizens 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.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs