My Fair Physicist? Feminine Math and Science Role Models Demotivate Young Girls

August 9, 2012 at 9:14 am 4 comments

An interesting interaction between self-efficacy and role models. I read this as the girls saying to themselves, “Sure, there are female scientists — but *I* could never be like that! I might as well give up now.”

Study 1 showed that feminine STEM role models reduced middle school girls’ current math interest, self-rated ability, and success expectations relative to gender-neutral STEM role models and depressed future plans to study math among STEM-disidentified girls. These results did not extend to feminine role models displaying general (not STEM-specific) school success, indicating that feminine cues were not driving negative outcomes. Study 2 suggested that feminine STEM role models’ combination of femininity and success seemed particularly unattainable to STEM-disidentified girls.

via My Fair Physicist? Feminine Math and Science Role Models Demotivate Young Girls.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Dennis J Frailey  |  August 9, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    This is entirely consistent with some rather frustrating experiences I have had and part of it comes from the inaccurate perception of STEM careers found among both students and faculty members at many universities! A particular case in point is the notion that a career in computer science or software engineering involves a lot of programming (or else a lot of theoretical computer science research) and that if one is not a really good programmer (or theoretical mathematician) one might as well not get a degree in CS or SWE.

    Here’s what really happens in most companies. People with CS or SWE degrees often start off writing software and in a number of small companies their programming skills might be valued. But they quickly find themselves more involved with understanding software requirements, designing software, debugging it, and maintaining software. Coding tends to become a very small part of the job after a while. And that’s for the companies that do relatively small, lightweight software. For the great majority of employers, where the software systems tend to be large and complex, the job soon entails a lot of other skills and talents – talents that one often finds among young women. For example, organizational, leadership and management skills are more closely associated with long term career success than programming skill. I once interviewed a young lady who had dropped out of CS because she felt intimidated by the “programming whizzes” in her CS classes. She was president of her sorority, an accomplished organizer and leader, and an individual to whom we would have offered a higher salary than her “whiz kid” programmer classmates, had she completed her CS program with a B average or better.

    I spent over 35 years in industry and found that women with CS backgrounds often had just the right “stuff” to become engineering managers, project managers, and even corporate officers in very large companies. The women I knew in those capacities generally graduated with CS degrees in the 1980’s, when female enrollment in CS was at a peak. One of our concerns was the relatively shallow pipeline of future women to replace them due to the drops in CS enrollment in later decades. In my view, it was the advent of the PC and the resulting perception that computing careers required exceptional programming skill that seems to have been a significant factor responsible for this change.

  • 2. Mylène  |  August 15, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    Thanks for this. You might also be interested in this post by Dan Meyer discussing (among other things) the style of motivational posters that show [insert under-represented group here] doing something technical. One of his comments sums it up for me: “When you see someone love something you find completely unloveable, it’s hard to relate to that person. It’s hard not to think they’re insane.”

    • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  August 15, 2012 at 7:58 pm

      Thank you! It’s a wonderful post that I plan to say more about later.

  • 4. Engendered Imbalance | Academic Computing  |  August 19, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    […] get the girls in, use role models” (except when they put off girls), […]


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