Initiatives aiming at addressing the under-representation of women in certain domains often include flexible or part-time working arrangements. The idea behind this seems to be that women often find it harder – and more important – to achieve a good work-life-balance, while other career goals such as prestige and a high salary are important to men.This of course makes sense, as women still take over a disproportionate amount of childcare and household work, while men are still seen as being the main earner of the family’s income. But times are changing – so is it really still the case that men’s and women’s career goals are that different?
A study that we conducted with academic staff at the University fo Exeter indicates that this isn’t necessarily the case. We asked them to rate the importance of different career goals on a scale from 1 to 7 and as you can see in the figure below, patterns were pretty similar for men and women. So it seems that it isn’t so much that women and men (at least in our sample) have different goals – but it might still be harder for women to achieve some of them.
Gender discrimination in the workplace is a controversial topic and some argue that talking about it might over-emphasize the problem and prevent women from entering fields in which they are under-represented. In fact, since starting this blog, we have received some comments along these lines on our posts ourselves, for example when talking about the glass cliff. These concerns are certainly not unjustified. However, knowing about gender discrimination might also help girls and women as it shows them that negative feedback that they might have received may not be due to their lack of skill or talent, but due to gender discrimination. So talking about gender discrimination seems to be a double-edged sword. But what does the literature have to say about this matter?
Weisgram and Bigler were intrigued by this debate and investigated how providing girls with information about gender discrimination in science influences their attitudes towards and interest in a career in science. Two groups of middle school aged girls took part in a one hour session with the aim of sparking their interest in computer science. After this, one of the groups also attended a session on historic and contemporary gender discrimination in scientific fields. The effects of the one hour session in itself proved to be rather disappointing. The girls were neither more interested in a scientific career nor did they feel more confident in their scientific abilities. What is more, after the intervention they had stronger beliefs that men were better at science than women. Interestingly, this was quite different for those girls who had been taught about gender discrimination: They felt more confident about their scientific abilities and had a higher opinion on science in general. However, their interest in science did not change.
Nevertheless, although the positive effects were limited, this study suggests that making barriers and obstacles that women face explicit does not have the suspected negative effects.
Our images of “the doctor” or “the scientist” as middle aged or older white men are formed early on and the lack of visibility of the women of those fields in text books and education in general is certainly not helping in attracting girls into these disciplines.
Luckily it seems that independent creators of educational content, for example on YouTube, are not following this trend. There are some great educational resources by women in STEM/M and about women in STEM/M out there and I’d like to share some of them with you this week – feel free to share them with your kids, your friends’ kids or anyone who might benefit from them. I shall go back to posting about research and the like in my next post.
Videos about women in STEM/M:
From the “SciShow: Great Minds” series: Elizabeth Blackburn, Marie Curie, Ada Lovelace, Jane Goodall, Rosalind Franklin, Barbare McClintock and Henrietta Leavitt
A few great STEM/M channels hosted by women (but there are many more):
The Brain Scoop, hosted by Emily Graslie, from the Field Museum of Natural History
Vi Hart – entertaining math nerdiness by .
I F***ing Love Science, hosted by Elise Andrew
Also: Happy Holidays everyone!