“They’re expected to stick to the more routine work,” she said, describing the discrimination in STEM fields as “benevolent sexism” because men are often trying to accommodate women with children. “They don’t realize they might be discouraging women or not giving them full opportunities. … [Men] might think they’re being sensitive, but it results in women missing out on a very important aspect of career advancement.”
Often, being one of the only women in a STEM workplace—sometimes the lone woman—can be a challenge.
“There are still a lot of instances where that happens,” Bernstein said.
Gender isn’t among the biggest factors for predicting who will earn a STEM-related degree. It’s the strongest predictor, according to research released by the Council of Graduate Schools, which showed that women in STEM fields are 7 to 10 percent less likely to finish their doctoral programs.
A report titled, “Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Education, and Mathematics,” published by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) last spring, identified several reasons for the gender gap in STEM fields.
The report said that “negative stereotypes about girls’ abilities in math can indeed measurably lower girls’ test performance” and “lower girls’ aspirations for science and engineering careers over time.”
Encouraging girls and women to enter and remain in STEM fields, however, has proven effective, according to the AAUW research.
“When test administrators tell students that girls and boys are equally capable in math, … the difference in performance essentially disappears, illustrating that changes in the learning environment can improve girls’ achievement in math,” the report says.
Connecting females with the humanities and arts in higher education is “common,” according to the report, even among respondents who “actively reject” the stereotypes of men excelling in science and math and women gravitating toward the arts.
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