Millions given to university to analyze women’s STEM success

$2.2 million study on women and STEM to explore how signals in the physical environment shape persistence and performance

women-STEMThe National Science Foundation (NSF) wants to identify obstacles that keep women from entering and remaining in STEM careers, and Indiana University’s Mary C. Murphy is working to reveal a previously hidden factor that may be preventing advancement in these fields.

Recognizing the implications of Murphy’s work–that there may be subtle, environmental signals that discourage some women from entering or remaining in careers in science, technology, engineering and math–the NSF in April awarded the experimental social psychologist more than $2.2 million to support investigation into these invisible barriers.

“There are many subtle cues in our environment suggesting whether they are ‘identity safe’ or ‘identity threatening’ with regard to gender identity,” said Murphy, assistant professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. “Anything from the number of men versus women in a room to segregated seating patterns, to friendship networks, to whether men or women are praised as the top performers on a team.

(Next page: How Murphy’s research will be structured)

Laura Ascione