Five Stereotypes Negatively Affecting Women in Science

It is no secret that science is in great need of more women contributors, so what might be stopping them?

According to a recent study released by the Boston Consulting Group, “stereotypes appear to be the biggest hurdle to increasing high school girls’ participation in scientific studies.” Here are five incorrect assumptions that are hindering girls and women from achieving greater success in the science field. 


Women have less academic success


According to the BCG, “a girl graduating from high school has, on average, a 35% chance of enrolling in a scientific Bachelor, an 18% chance of graduating with a Bachelor degree in science, an 8% chance of graduating with a Master degree in science, and a 2% chance of becoming a Doctor of science.”


However, according to an American study funded by the National Institutes of Health, “the academic success of girls now equals or exceeds that of boys at the high school and college levels”. In Europe, data also shows that women outnumber men regarding education level and diplomas. In France for example, in 2010, 51% of women received diplomas of higher education versus 37% for men.


So, perhaps it is time to let go of this stereotype and explore other reasons which could explain why women are so underrepresented in science. We recommend checking out this excellent article, which features an infography put together by the New Jersey Institute of Technology Master’s in Computer Science program.


Science is not “feminine”


Women are socially conditioned from a young age to have domestic aspirations such as being romantically desirable and becoming a wife and mother. These socializations can detract from the desirability of STEM-related job fields because they are typically considered ‘masculine’ by nature, and young girls and women that excel in these fields are labeled unfeminine.


These stereotypes are strengthened by the poor representation of women scientists in the media and entertainment industries, even if progress is being made, with more leading roles in Sci-Fi movies being given to women (has anyone seen Sandra Bullock’s role in Gravity, for example?).


But, there may be other factors that explain why science careers are not female-friendly.


Last but not least, would you say Hedy Lamarr, “The Most Beautiful Woman in the World”, actress and scientist of the 1940s, is not feminine?


You can’t be a mom and a scientist


The fact that there is such a disparity between men and women in science careers is often misinterpreted as a result of the difficulty of balancing work life and private life. However, many women have proven, in other demanding fields, that having a family and a successful career is doable, and even necessary.


For example, Dr Ahu Arslan Yildiz, a young Turkish researcher, explains why women shouldn’t be faced with choosing between having a career or starting a family.


If you give up one of these two things, either science or family, you might end up being an unbalanced and unhappy person in the end


Besides, have you ever heard of a male CEO being asked in an interview how he balances career and family life?


Here are a few solid examples of women doing both!





Science is solitude


Science has a reputation for being built on individual achievement and solo endeavors, which can be a deterrent to many.


Despite the ostensible solitude, it is important to recognize how interdependent science actually is. The lines between disciplines can be quite blurry – biology needs chemistry and physics, physics needs math, psychology needs biology and neurology, and so on. Science is a team sport. Interdisciplinary collaborations provide insights and progress toward new discoveries that could not otherwise be made.


Men are worth more


The US Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) contend that women in STEM jobs earn 33% more than women in other fields, indicating that the wage gap between men and women is actually smaller in STEM. But, just as in other professional sectors, men tend to make more money than their female counterparts for the same jobs. A study at MIT revealed that, “the marginalization experienced by female scientists at M.I.T. ‘was often accompanied by differences in salary, space, awards, resources and response to outside offers between men and women faculty, with women receiving less despite professional accomplishments equal to those of their colleagues.’”


We think this article and infography is a step in the right direction. As Curt Rice states, “we can’t work on this problem unless we believe that it’s real”.


The BCG informs us that the key to reducing the representation gap is to: 1) raise awareness – break stereotypes and inform oneself about scientific career opportunities; 2) stimulate interest – motivate girls to pursue science through active discovery; 3) guide and support – help female scientists engage in scientific study and provide tools for success, and 4) finance – ensure that monetary concerns are not a deterring factor. This approach can only be successful if the entire ecosystem is engaged, including parents, educators and authorities.


How do you feel about these stereotypes and what do you think can be done to overcome them in order to help recruit and retain more women in science? Share your thoughts by tweeting us @4womeninscience, using the #womeninscience hashtag.


Photo credit: NPR, "How Stereotypes Can Drive Women to Quit Science"

L’Oréal–UNESCO
For Women in Science

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