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«A Resource Guide for Parents and Teens Developed and Compiled by the Youth Council of the DuPage Workforce Board A Letter to Parents: Your teen’s ...»

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In a follow-up study Heilman and Okimoto (2007) showed that the negativity directed at successful women in male occupations lessened when the women were viewed as “communal.” For example, when told that a woman manager “is tough, yet understanding and concerned about others... known to encourage cooperation and helpful behavior and has worked hard to increase her employees’ sense of belonging,” individuals no longer liked her less than a male counterpart and no longer preferred her male counterpart to her as a boss. If a woman was described as a mother, a role inferred to require communal traits, the negativity directed at her was eliminated as well, and the preference for men disappeared. Importantly, additional positive information that was not communal in nature, such as “outgoing and personable... known to reward individual contributions,” did not affect the negativity directed at successful women in male-type occupations; unless communal traits were ascribed to the women, participants consistently preferred men to women. These findings suggest that if women’s success in maletype fields is accompanied by evidence of communality, negativity directed at these women can be averted. Heilman warns not to overinterpret this finding, however, and cautions that the bigger obstacle for most women in male-type work environments is being perceived as competent in the first place. If women emphasize their communal traits when it’s not absolutely clear that they’re competent, it might only feed into the notion that they’re incompetent. The findings from the 2007 study suggest only that if a woman in a male-type field is clearly accepted as successful and competent, then emphasizing her communal qualities can temper some of the dislike typically directed at someone in her position.

i M P l i C AT i o n S F o r F E M A l E S C i E n T i S T S A n d E n G i n E E r S STEM fields are perceived as male, even fields like chemistry and math where almost one-half of degrees awarded now go to women.13 Heilman’s research shows how, in the absence of clear performance information, individuals view women in male-type occupations as less competent than men. When a woman has shown herself irrefutably to be competent in a male-type field, she then pays the price of social rejection in the form of being disliked. Being disliked appears to have clear consequences for evaluation and recommendations about reward allocation, including salary levels. Heilman’s research may partially explain why women working in STEM occupations leave at higher rates than their male peers do: most people don’t enjoy being assumed incompetent or, if thought competent, being disliked. This research may have The one exception is biology, which has started to shift away from being thought of as a male-type field.

13 AAUW 86 implications for girls’ aspirations for STEM careers as well, since the same disapproval directed at professional women who are successful at male-type tasks may be directed at girls who are successful at male-type tasks. In the words of Heilman and Okimoto (2007, p. 92), “Doing what men do, as well as they do it, does not seem to be enough; women must additionally be able to manage the delicate balance of being both competent and communal.”

r E Co M M E n d AT i o n S

• R aise awareness ab out bias against women in ST EM fields.

If people are aware that gender bias exists in STEM fields, they can work to interrupt the unconscious thought processes that lead to bias. In particular, if women in science and engineering occupations are aware that gender bias exists in these fields, it may allow them to fortify themselves. When they encounter dislike from their peers, it may be helpful to know that they are not alone. Despite how it feels, the social disapproval is not personal, and women can counteract it.

• Fo cus on comp etence.

Heilman’s research shows that women may be disliked for being competent in traditionally male work roles. Nonetheless, Heilman encourages girls and women in STEM areas to focus on attaining competence in their work. Countering the social disapproval that may come from being perceived as competent is possible and preferable to being considered incompetent and never reaching higher-level positions.

• Create c lear cr iter ia f or success and t r ansparenc y.

When the criteria for evaluation are vague or no objective measures of performance exist, an individual’s performance is likely to be ambiguous, and when performance is ambiguous, people view women as less competent than men in STEM fields.

Women and others facing bias are likely to do better in institutions with clear criteria for success and structures for evaluation. Transparency in the evaluation process is also important for anyone who may be subject to bias.

Why So Few? 87 Chapter 10.

Recommendations Why are so few women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics? The answer lies in part in our perceptions and unconscious beliefs about gender in mathematics and science.

Luckily, stereotypes, bias, and other cultural beliefs can change; often the very act of identifying a stereotype or bias begins the process of dismantling it. Following a review of the profiled case studies, AAUW offers recommendations in three areas: cultivating girls’ achievement and interest in science and engineering, creating college environments that support women in science and engineering, and counteracting bias.

C U lT i vAT i n G G i r l S’ AC h i E v E M E n T A n d i n T E r E S T i n SCiEnCE And EnGinEErinG Parents and educators can do a great deal to encourage girls’ achievement and interest in math and science. Unfortunately, the ancient and erroneous belief that boys are better equipped to tackle scientific and mathematical problems persists in many circles today, despite the tremendous progress that girls have made in science and math in recent decades. Research shows that negative stereotypes about girls’ suitability for mathematical and scientific work are harmful in measurable ways. Even a subtle reference to gender stereotypes has been shown to adversely affect girls’ math test performance. Stereotypes also influence girls’ self-assessments in math, which influence their interest in pursuing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers. Fortunately, research also shows that actively countering stereotypes can lead to improvements in girls’ performance and interest in math and science.

AAUW makes the following recommendations for cultivating girls’ achievement and interest

in science and engineering:

–  –  –


• Teac h gir ls that intel lect ual skil ls, inc luding spat ial skil ls, are acquired.

Teach girls that every time they work hard and learn something new, their brains form new connections, and over time they become smarter. Teach girls that passion, dedication, and self-improvement, not simply innate talent, are the road to achievement and contribution. Praise girls for their effort rather than their intelligence.

Communicate to girls that seeking challenges, working hard, and learning from mistakes are valuable. These messages will teach girls the values that are at the heart of scientific and mathematical contributions: love of challenge, love of hard work, and the ability to embrace and learn from inevitable mistakes.

• Teac h st udents ab out stereot y p e threat and promote a grow th-mindset environment.

Teaching students about stereotype threat can result in better performance for girls and young women, specifically on high-stakes tests. Additionally, girls in a growthmindset environment are less affected by stereotype threat in science and math. Create a growth-mindset environment in the classroom by emphasizing that intellectual skills can be improved with effort and perseverance and that anyone who works hard can succeed.

• Talented and gif ted progr ams should send the message that the y value grow th and lear ning.

Talented and gifted programs can benefit students by sending the message that students are in these programs not because they have been bestowed with a “gift” of great ability but because they are advanced in certain areas and the program will help them further develop their abilities. Consider changing the name of talented and gifted programs to “challenge” or “advanced” programs to emphasize more of a growth mindset and less of a fixed mindset.

• Encour age c hildren to de velop their spat ial skil ls.

Encourage children to play with construction toys, take things apart and put them back together again, play games that involve fitting objects into different places, draw, and work with their hands. Spatial skills developed in elementary and middle school can promote student interest in mathematics, physics, and other areas. Girls and boys with good spatial skills may be more confident about their abilities and express greater interest in pursuing certain STEM subjects and learning about careers in engineering.

–  –  –

Although many young women graduate from high school well prepared to pursue a science or engineering major, relatively few women pursue majors in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, and when they do, many capable women leave these majors before graduation.

Even fewer women are present on science and engineering faculty. Research finds that small improvements in the culture of a department can have a positive effect on the recruitment and retention of female students. Likewise, departments that work to integrate female faculty and enhance a sense of community are also more likely to recruit and retain female faculty.

AAUW makes the following recommendations for creating college environments that support

women in science and engineering:

–  –  –

• Act ivel y recr uit women into ST EM majors.

Qualified women are less likely to have considered science and engineering majors than are their male peers. Colleges and universities should reach out to high school girls to inform them about the science and engineering majors that they offer. For women who arrive at college underprepared or unsure of what they want to study, provide a pathway to major in a STEM field. Offer introductory courses that appeal to students with different levels of preparation or background in the major. These measures can be critical for identifying and recruiting talented STEM students from diverse backgrounds.

• S end an inc lusive message ab out who makes a go o d science or engineer ing st udent.

Admissions policies that require experience that will be taught in the curriculum (for example, requiring computer science major applicants to have significant prior computer programming experience) may weed out potentially successful students, especially women. Revising admissions policies to send a more inclusive message about who can be successful in STEM majors can help departments recruit more qualified, capable women.

• Emphasiz e real-lif e applic at ions in ear l y ST EM courses.

Presenting the broad applications of science and engineering to students early in their college career builds students’ interest and confidence. Early college courses emphasizing real-world applications of STEM work have been shown to increase the retention of women in STEM majors.

• Teac h professors ab out stereot y p e threat and the b enefits of a grow th mindset.

Research shows that professors can reduce stereotype threat in their classrooms and change students’ mindsets from fixed to growth through the messages they send their students. Educate professors about stereotype threat, the benefits of a growth mindset, and how to create a growth-mindset environment in their classrooms by sending students the message that intellectual skills can be acquired and anyone who works hard can succeed.

–  –  –

• Enf orce T itle IX in science, tec hnolog y, engineer ing, and math.

Title IX is an important tool to help create equal opportunities and full access to STEM fields for women. Title IX compliance reviews by federal agencies ensure gender equity in STEM education.

–  –  –

• Conduct depar t mental re vie ws to assess the c limate f or f emale facult y.

Although the climate within the department is important to both female and male faculty, it appears to be more important for female faculty and their overall satisfaction. When female faculty experience a negative climate, they report lower job satisfaction and are more likely to consider leaving their position.

–  –  –

Bias against women—both implicit and explicit—still exists in science and engineering. Even individuals who actively reject gender stereotypes often hold unconscious biases about women in scientific and engineering fields. Women in “male” jobs like engineering can also face overt discrimination.

AAUW makes the following recommendations for counteracting bias:

• L ear n ab out your own implicit bias.

Take the implicit association tests at https://implicit.harvard.edu to gain a better understanding of your own biases.

• Keep your biases in mind.

Although implicit biases operate at an unconscious level, individuals can resolve to become more aware of how they make decisions and if and when their implicit biases may be at work in that process.

• Take steps to cor rect f or your biases.

Educators can look at the influence their biases have on their teaching, advising, and evaluation of students and can work to create an environment in the classroom that counters gender-science stereotypes. Parents can resolve to be more aware of messages they send their sons and daughters about their suitability for math and science.

• R aise awareness ab out bias against women in ST EM fields.

If scientists and engineers are aware that gender bias is a reality in STEM fields, they can work to interrupt the unconscious thought processes that lead to bias.

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