As a male and biology major, I didn’t realize that most of my science and math teachers are also males and thus didn’t think much of it. However, a study conducted by social psychologists at UMass Amherst finds that young girls develop and/or sustain negative feelings towards STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) subjects due to the lack of relatable [female] role models in these fields. These negative feelings of not belonging in the STEM subjects as young girls, transform into a lack of confidence and interest in these careers as young women pursuing higher education.
The study emphasizes the importance of “academic contact with women who have succeeded in science, math and engineering” to inspire interest and confidence for girls and young women. While increasing the visibility and access of females as professors has a dramatic impact on women’s self perception in STEM, it notes that the professors’ gender is less important for men.
Nilanjana Dasgupta, who conducted the study, adds “the advantage of female role models isn’t obvious from attitudes assessed by direct survey measures.” Many women answer survey questions claiming that they feel as positive as their male peers, regarding pursuing STEM careers, however, the finding on implicit attitudes by rapid, computer-based measures shows the opposite. Women were slower to react when asked to group together “Math” with “good” than “Math” with “Bad” and the reverse was true for “Literature.”
Hopefully, these finding will result in intervening early to protect young women’s perception of STEM fields by integrating more females as STEM professionals. The findings of the study are featured in the February issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. A small article on the finding is available here.
Written by: Jaymin Patel