Gender Peer Group Power: The Chicken & Egg in Women Modeling Math & Science Careers

Slate Magazine has taken on the often quoted gender bias in math and science and has offered more nuanced, evidence based perspective.  It is exactly why many programs out there about girls and women in science are not just nice, but needed. It is why drug addicts learn best from other, fully recovered, successfully clean ex-drug addicts.  Peer examples and leadership have great influence on helping others succeed.

It is why I had success modeling my early learning in social media to my own peer group of consultants and coaches.  I’m one of them.  I can do it.

Consider the impact of peers on  this sample of meeting basic human needs:

  • Safety/Security— the need for structure, predictability, stability, and freedom from fear and anxiety.
  • Belongingness/Love — the need to be accepted by others and to have strong personal ties with one’s family, friends, and identity groups.
  • Self-esteem — the need to be recognized by oneself and others as strong, competent, and capable. It also includes the need to know that one has some effect on her/his environment.
  • Personal fulfillment — the need to reach one’s potential in all areas of life.
  • Identity — goes beyond a psychological “sense of self.” Burton and other human needs theorists define identity as a sense of self in relation to the outside world. Identity becomes a problem when one’s identity is not recognized as legitimate, or when it is considered inferior or is threatened by others with different identifications.

Identity is a strong motivator. The Slate excerpt  below suggests just how strong it can be.

As for those women I know who have choosen math, science and engineering as a career, here’s my personal list.  I know:

  • Two female math and science professors.
  • One female math tutor.
  • My second cousin, has a chemical engineering BS.
  • My godaughter with a BS in Operations and Industrial Engineering, working in Lean manufacturing.
That’s it.  In over thirty decades of work experience.   It is why female university presidents, female department chairs in traditionally male disciplines and in company leadership continues to feel fresh and new even in this second decade of this millenium. 
Remember the feminist decades of the 60’s and 70’s?  I was a kid then.  Thirty years later, I can still see gender bias, but I agree much more with the more motivating pull of a clear, compelling role model.  I agree with the Slate excerpt and full article cited below.

__________________________

Peer examples and leadership have great influence on helping others succeed.  ….I’m one of them.  I can do it.

__________________________

This also impact affects males having more choices and less stigma (male nurses, stay-at-home dads) as well.  Men who are more involved in being with and knowing their children, and are participating in their milestone moments are enjoying part of the reward.  Having a better understanding of where there real barriers to more gender-free choices in careers can empower us to reach our full capacity, rather than only partially fulfilling our potential due to real or imagined gender boundaries.     –Deb

 

 

Excerpted:  Slate Magazine

…[from research by] Jane Stout, Nilanjana Dasgupta, Matthew Hunsinger, and Melissa A. McManus.  …psychologists at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst [who] recently conducted experiments… Their focus was on college students, but their work has broad implications for the way we think about education and fairness.

__________________________

…[they]  wanted to find out why women’s outstanding performance on science and math tests in high school and college correlates so weakly with their eventual interest in pursuing careers in those fields.

__________________________

Stout, Dasgupta, and their colleagues wanted to find out why women’s outstanding performance on science and math tests in high school and college correlates so weakly with their eventual interest in pursuing careers in those fields. In high school and college, girls increasingly earn math and science grades equal to or better than the grades of their male peers…

The psychologists asked female students studying biology, chemistry, and engineering to take a very tough math test. All the students were greeted by a senior math major who wore a T-shirt displaying Einstein’s E=mc2 equation. For some volunteers, the math major was male. For others, the math major was female.

This tiny tweak made a difference: Women attempted more questions on the tough math test when they were greeted by a female math major rather than a male math major. On psychological tests that measured their unconscious attitudes toward math, the female students showed a stronger self-identification with math when the math major who had greeted them was female. When they were greeted by the male math major, women had significantly higher negative attitudes toward math.

__________________________

Women attempted more questions on the tough math test when they were greeted by a female math major rather than a male math major.

__________________________


In a more ambitious experiment organized with the university’s math department, the psychologists evaluated how undergraduates performed when they had male or female math professors.

They measured, for instance, how often each student responded to questions posed by professors to the classroom as a whole. …By the end of the semester, the number of female students who attempted to answer questions posed by a male professor…[stood at] …7 percent (7%) of the women … But when classes were taught by a woman, the percentage of female students who attempted to answer [at] semester’s end rose to 46%.

…Finally, when Stout and Dasgupta evaluated how much the students identified with mathematics, they found that women ended up with less confidence in their mathematical abilities when their teachers were men rather than women. This happened even when women outperformed men on actual tests of math performance.

__________________________

On objective measures of math performance, these women were outscoring men. But their identification with mathematics was ….was connected to whether their teacher was a woman or a man.

__________________________

Think about that. On objective measures of math performance, these women were outscoring men. But their identification with mathematics was not tied to their interest, determination, or talent. It was connected to whether their teacher was a woman or a man.

These experiments suggest that subtle and unconscious factors skew the “free choices” we make….

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2 Responses to “Gender Peer Group Power: The Chicken & Egg in Women Modeling Math & Science Careers”

  1. […] this photo was published in a Mar 3, 2011 blog titled "Gender Peer Group Power: The Chicken & Egg in Women Modeling Math & Science Careers." It was also published in a May 26, 2011 blog titled "Rainy Day Shopping Trip." And […]

  2. […] Slate Magazine has taken on the often quoted gender bias in math and science and has offered more nuanced, evidence based perspective. It's the chicken and egg dilemma. It is why many programs ou…  […]

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