It is pretty easy to see in certain technical industries that there is a skewed representation of women compared to men. It turns out that this tipping of the scale in one direction has been starting since college and could be a result of years of preconceived gender biases against women looking to major in STEM-centric fields.
In a new study conducted by NYU, and published in the “American Educational Research Journal”, they found that women tend to choose their majors not based on whether or not they involve math or science, but based on the amount of discrimination they feel they will receive from men involved with these majors.
“Our study examines what common attributes that cut across academic disciplines are predictive of who chooses those majors,” explains Joseph R. Cimpian, associate professor of economics and education policy at the NYU Steinhardt School and the study’s senior author, “so not whether majors like physics have an unequal gender distribution but whether disciplines perceived to be high in math or science requirements have unequal gender distributions.”
After collecting loads of data through collecting surveys and mapping the trajectory of 4,850 U.S. students dating back to 2002, Cimpian and his colleagues were able to find out that gender discrimination was the most telling factor in order to find out whether the major had more males in it than women.
“Some people may find it unsurprising that perceived discrimination matters, but what is striking is just how much it matters and how little other factors matter,” explained Cimpian, “the relationships we find for perceived discrimination dwarf those of other predictive factors like the money orientation of the field. Similarly, the data does not support the notion that women are math-phobic or science-phobic, as some believe. Rather – and quite reasonably – women don’t like to be discriminated against.”
Alternatively, the study also discovered that most women are more interested in majors that are more oriented towards money than creative fields like the arts. This proves that women would love to be included, but just don’t to be harassed by male students or professors.
GEE, WHAT A THOUGHT?
So what can administrators do in order to help women feel more included in these math and science-centric majors? According to Cimpian, it is as simple as extending an olive branch in order to break any of these ridiculous existing stereotypes.
“There have been messages about whether you need to be innately talented to be in these fields, in terms of brilliance,” adds Cimpian, “the disciplines that value brilliance more, tend to have a lot fewer women and also a lot fewer African Americans in them. It’s not necessarily that women or African Americans are less likely to be brilliant, but rather that society tends to stereotype them as less brilliant. An academic or an administrator might think ‘well it’s not bad to say you need to be brilliant or talented to be in this field.’ But, the message that you are sending out because we cant divorce everything from society and the stereotypes that are out there, says ‘maybe because of who you are, are not likely going to be an individual who’s going to succeed in this field’.”
So, to men everywhere: just be cool. Okay?