Equity and Access

Published in the Research School of Physics Event Horizon
Vol42 Issue46 28 November–2 December 2016

From the RSPE Equity and Access Committee:

Gender balance: Culture clash


Stereotypes about scientific fields shape what women choose to study.

Scientific disciplines that have a 'masculine culture' tend to deter women from pursuing those fields, a study finds (S. Cheryan et al. Psychol. Bull.http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/bul0000052;10.1037/bul0000052 2016). The study analysed 1,200 publications looking at women's participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to learn why women are well represented in biology but not in physics, computer science and engineering. The authors found that the presence of negative stereotypes about women's abilities and the lack of female role models were major factors in deterring women. But they also found that women who feared gender bias and discrimination might be more likely to avoid certain fields. Predictors of decreased participation included a lack of pre-university experience in the field and a lack of confidence. The low numbers are also linked more to a failure to recruit female students into the fields than in retaining them, suggest the authors. Creating a more inclusive culture is the best way to boost female participation, the authors say.

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