Study says multiple factors work together to drive women away from STEM

October 13, 2017 at 7:00 am 1 comment

I wrote recently in a blog post that we don’t know enough why women aren’t going into computing, and I wrote in another blog post that CRA is finding that we lose women over the years of an undergraduate degree in CS.  Here’s an interesting study offering explanations for why we are not getting and keeping women:

The study analyzed a large, private university on the East Coast, using data from 2009-16, broken down semester-by-semester to track students’ changes in grades and majors in as close to real time as possible. While other studies have suggested that women came out of high school less prepared, or that increasing female STEM faculty could help provide women mentors, the Georgetown study didn’t support those findings.

“Women faculty don’t seem to attract more women into a field, and that was sort of sad news for us,” Kugler said. “We were hoping we could make more of a difference.”

One of the reasons women might feel undue pressure in STEM fields might actually be because of how recruiting and mentoring is framed. Many times, those efforts actually end up reinforcing the idea that STEM is for men.“Society keeps telling us that STEM fields are masculine fields, that we need to increase the participation of women in STEM fields, but that kind of sends a signal that it’s not a field for women, and it kind of works against keeping women in these fields,” Kugler said.

And while many STEM majors are male-dominated, the framing of recruitment and mentorship efforts can sometimes paint inaccurate pictures for STEM fields that aren’t male-dominated, and contribute to an inaccurate picture for STEM as a whole, the paper says:

While men may not have a natural ability advantage in STEM fields, the numerous government and other policy initiatives designed to get women interested in STEM fields may have the unintended effect of signaling to women an inherent lack of fit.

While computer science, biophysics and physics tend to be male-dominated, Kugler said, neurobiology, environmental biology and biology of global health tend to be female-dominated.

Source: Study says multiple factors work together to drive women away from STEM

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. L Hobbes LeGault  |  October 14, 2017 at 11:43 am

    That bolded paragraph is really getting at something that I’m low-key trying to use as motivation for what I’m doing in our department: focus on the underlying systemic inequalities that CAUSE women and underrepresented racial minorities to be at a disadvantage. We’ve established that it’s not just “being a minority” that puts you at a disadvantage, that’s a convenient label for a host of other factors that contribute to the issue.


    1. difficulty getting started – lack of people you know to talk about the subject with, harder to get help on your homework. Potential fix: offering free drop-in tutoring for struggling students.
    2. later cultural issues – the business world emphasizes networking as a way to get ahead in the field, and if the field is full of people who don’t want to talk with YOU and don’t share any interests besides CS, that’s really difficult to do. Potential fix: kill it with fire? idk

    Anyone have more/other ideas? I really think the way to approach this is less “let’s get girls into the biz” and more “let’s make this a biz girls want to get into”.


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