University website addresses gender gap in STEM fields

ASU's STEM site will include videos of women with successful STEM careers.
ASU's new web site will include videos of women with successful careers in the STEM fields.

Arizona State University officials aren’t just adding to the reams of research showing a gender gap in the science, technology, education, and math (STEM) fields. They’re confronting the persistent issue with a web site that encourages women to identify and rectify the “benevolent sexism” prevalent in these male-dominated fields.

The university will launch Nov. 4 after receiving a $3.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2006. The site, more than just another web resource with studies on how few women are entering STEM fields and finishing degree programs, will offer advice and encouragement from women who have succeeded in the four STEM professions in an effort to close this gender gap.

The web site, aimed at women pursuing their doctorate degrees in STEM fields, will have hundreds of “HerStory” video clips of women who have navigated the difficult STEM road and established careers.

Videos will be available in a wide variety of STEM fields, meaning women can find others from their particular profession, not just someone with a general STEM career, said Bianca Bernstein, an ASU counseling psychology professor and principal investigator of the CareerWISE research program grants.

“Our approach is a little different, because we’re actually trying to do something about it,” she said of the gender gap in the STEM fields.

Giving female Ph.D. candidates real-life examples of women who have been immersed in the same male-dominated fields, Bernstein said, could be key in motivating them to stay in school.

“One of the things we’re trying to address is that women and minorities don’t have role models to see what successful careers can look like in these fields,” she said. “It’s hard to imagine how you might succeed if you don’t see others like you succeed.”

Bernstein said women in STEM fields are often pegged as “lab mothers,” expected to clean up the laboratory after a day of work. And many women are not invited to present research, for example, at an overseas conference, because men assume women want to stay home with their children.