Belief that some fields require brilliance may keep women out

first_img“What Is Keeping Women Out of Leadership Jobs in Academic Medicine?” Certain scientific fields require a special type of brilliance, according to conventional wisdom. And a new study suggests that this belief, as misguided as it may be, helps explain the underrepresentation of women in those fields.Sparked by sharing anecdotes about their personal experiences in fields with very different gender ratios, a team of authors, led by Andrei Cimpian, a psychologist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and philosopher Sarah-Jane Leslie of Princeton University, surveyed graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty members at nine major U.S. research institutions. Participants rated the importance of having “an innate gift or talent” or “a special aptitude that just can’t be taught” to succeed in their field versus the value of “motivation and sustained effort.” The study, published online today in Science, looked across 30 disciplines in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, the social sciences, and the humanities.The authors found that fields in which inborn ability is prized over hard work produced relatively fewer female Ph.D.s. This trend, based on 2011 data from the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates, also helps explain why gender ratios don’t follow the simplified STEM/non-STEM divide in some fields, including philosophy and biology, they conclude. “Nearly 40 percent of women leave engineering” “That’s what’s particularly cool” about the study, says Janet Hyde, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “It’s a single framework that explains all of those data.”Cimpian, Leslie, and their co-authors say that their analysis considered other factors believed to depress female representation in academia, including women having different academic preferences and working fewer hours than men, and found them to be much less significant than the field’s believed importance of genius. Only 6.5% of the 28,210 academics who were contacted provided usable data. But the authors say they corrected for that single-digit response rate, which they note is typical for surveys of academics, by weighting the respondents’ scores. Although female respondents emphasized hard work over brilliance more than did male respondents, the authors say that a “gender-balanced” score for each discipline’s belief in the importance of genius also predicted gender differences in the various fields.The authors suggest that faculty members and graduate student instructors convey their attitudes to undergraduates, who internalize them before making career decisions. Given the prevailing societal view that fewer women than men have special intellectual abilities, they speculate, female students may feel discouraged from pursuing advanced degrees in fields that consider brilliance crucial. Male students, on the other hand, will not experience this same feedback, leading to a gender disparity in the discipline.The study investigates gender distribution and field-specific beliefs only at a single point in time, and the results do not address how female representation in certain fields, in particular the life sciences, has risen dramatically in the past 50 years. However, the authors predict that the rates at which women have gained footholds in different fields may be related to how much these fields emphasize the importance of genius.The results do not speak to the actual extent to which brilliance might be required for success in various fields or whether men and women have different intellectual capacities, the authors emphasize. “The argument is about the culture of the field,” Cimpian says. “In our current cultural climate, where women are stereotypically seen as less likely to possess these special intellectual gifts, emphasizing that those gifts are required for success is going to have a differential effect on men and women.”He and his colleagues also conclude that their findings help explain why African-Americans are underrepresented in STEM professions while Asian-Americans are not. “That’s another line of evidence that supports the gender data and that this a real phenomenon,” Hyde says.The authors recommend that academics wanting to increase the diversity of their field should try to downplay the importance of innate ability for success. “More emphasis on the concrete steps that one can take to become a productive member of the field would probably be welcome,” Cimpian says. Expressions of positive expectations can significantly improve achievement levels, notes psychologist Virginia Valian of Hunter College in New York City. “It’s good for every field to stress the role of effort and motivation,” she says.Although the authors do not argue that this single measure explains all the variation seen between fields, some researchers believe that the study has not sufficiently considered other possible reasons. Donna Ginther, an economist at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, suggests that the extent to which a field is math-intensive — a topic she has explored — is one such factor. On the other hand, some researchers note that philosophy is not mathematically intensive, and thus that factor would not be expected to affect career choices.“It’s not perfect,” Valian says of the authors’ study, “but they did an impressive job with the measures that are available. I think it’s a really good first step.”Related content:“Study: Women and minorities less interested in academic research careers” Sign up for our daily newsletter Get more great content like this delivered right to you! Country “Is academic science sexist?” Click to view the privacy policy. Required fields are indicated by an asterisk (*) Email “More Action Needed to Retain Women in Science” “Paradigms and prejudice” Country * Afghanistan Aland Islands Albania Algeria Andorra Angola Anguilla Antarctica Antigua and Barbuda Argentina Armenia Aruba Australia Austria Azerbaijan Bahamas Bahrain Bangladesh Barbados Belarus Belgium Belize Benin Bermuda Bhutan Bolivia, Plurinational State of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba Bosnia and Herzegovina Botswana Bouvet Island Brazil British Indian Ocean Territory Brunei Darussalam Bulgaria Burkina Faso Burundi Cambodia Cameroon Canada Cape Verde Cayman Islands Central African Republic Chad Chile China Christmas Island Cocos (Keeling) Islands Colombia Comoros Congo Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Cook Islands Costa Rica Cote d’Ivoire Croatia Cuba Curaçao Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Djibouti Dominica Dominican Republic Ecuador Egypt El Salvador Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Estonia Ethiopia Falkland Islands (Malvinas) Faroe Islands Fiji Finland France French Guiana French Polynesia French Southern Territories Gabon Gambia Georgia Germany Ghana Gibraltar Greece Greenland Grenada Guadeloupe Guatemala Guernsey Guinea Guinea-Bissau Guyana Haiti Heard Island and McDonald Islands Holy See (Vatican City State) Honduras Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran, Islamic Republic of Iraq Ireland Isle of Man Israel Italy Jamaica Japan Jersey Jordan Kazakhstan Kenya Kiribati Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Lao People’s Democratic Republic Latvia Lebanon Lesotho Liberia Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Macao Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Madagascar Malawi Malaysia Maldives Mali Malta Martinique Mauritania Mauritius Mayotte Mexico Moldova, Republic of Monaco Mongolia Montenegro Montserrat Morocco Mozambique Myanmar Namibia Nauru Nepal Netherlands New Caledonia New Zealand Nicaragua Niger Nigeria Niue Norfolk Island Norway Oman Pakistan Palestine Panama Papua New Guinea Paraguay Peru Philippines Pitcairn Poland Portugal Qatar Reunion Romania Russian Federation Rwanda Saint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia Saint Martin (French part) Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Samoa San Marino Sao Tome and Principe Saudi Arabia Senegal Serbia Seychelles Sierra Leone Singapore Sint Maarten (Dutch part) Slovakia Slovenia Solomon Islands Somalia South Africa South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Sudan Spain Sri Lanka Sudan Suriname Svalbard and Jan Mayen Swaziland Sweden Switzerland Syrian Arab Republic Taiwan Tajikistan Tanzania, United Republic of Thailand Timor-Leste Togo Tokelau Tonga Trinidad and Tobago Tunisia Turkey Turkmenistan Turks and Caicos Islands Tuvalu Uganda Ukraine United Arab Emirates United Kingdom United States Uruguay Uzbekistan Vanuatu Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of Vietnam Virgin Islands, British Wallis and Futuna Western Sahara Yemen Zambia Zimbabwe “Elite Male Faculty Employ Fewer Women” “The Complexity of Gender Differences in Choosing STEM”last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *