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Brilliance requirements lead to lower girls' representation in STEM

Last year, I came across this great piece of research by Dr. Leslie, Dr. Meyer, and others.

A lot has been written about mindset and why girls’ representation is very low in STEM fields whether it is related to picking STEM related college majors, tenured faculty positions at academic institutions, or corporate leadership positions in technology companies.

This study introduces a new concept called FAB (field-specific ability beliefs). Basically, the main outcome of this study is that if a particular field is believed to require innate brilliance (further reinforcing stereotype that men are more brilliant than women), then most women will be discouraged to enter such fields. Such FABs combined with cultural stereotyping will lead more girls to have fixed mindsets and unless we spread awareness, the patterns will remain largely unchanged.

The research highlights percent of American Ph.D.s earned by women in 2011 (obtained through NSF survey of earned Ph.D.s). What stood out for me was that less than 30% of Ph.D.s were earned by women in the fields of Physics (18%), Computer Science (18.6%), Engineering (22.2%), and Mathematics (28.6%). These statistics make sense and it is also clear that more women drop out from Bachelor’s degree to Doctorate’s because the Bachelor’s degree female percentages are higher.

We have to make sure that we get rid of linkage of raw brilliance with STEM fields. If Ph.D.s earned by women are less than 50%, that means there will be fewer role model professors/researchers who can help break gender stereotypes and change FABs.

Dr. Leslie has done a great job on in this video which makes the message very clear.




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