Many of you probably saw the New York Times article yesterday on the report issued by the American Association of University Women called “Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.” (See also Inside Higher Ed’s report, which goes into a bit more detail.) It’s a comprehensive review of the literature on sex and STEM fields, ranging from elementary school through grad school experiences and into the STEM workplace. I’ve skimmed the 134-page report–readers here will probably be most interested in the chapters on stereotype threat and achievement in STEM fields (chapter 3), the college student experience (chapter 6), university and college faculty (chapter 7), and workplace bias (chapter 9).
Those of you who work with young children–either as educators or as parents, or both–will want to pay close attention to the advice the AAUW offers in chapter 2 regarding beliefs about intelligence. The report describes the contrast between a “Fixed Mind-Set” (the belief that intelligence is essentially static) and the “Growth Mind-Set” (the belief that intelligence can be developed). Children with the “Growth Mind-Set” embrace challenges rather than run from them and are persistent, they see effort as critical to intellectual mastery, and they learn from critical feedback–all skills that they’ll need if they’re going to achieve in any field, STEM or non-STEM.
I was particularly interested in “Why So Few”‘s discussion of workplace bias in chapter 9. It argues that both competence and likability are critical to workplace advancement (as measured by promotions, salary increases, and the like.) This chapter details several studies that demonstrate that the more success women have in traditionally male fields, the less likable they’re perceived to be–the classic “double-bind” that limits women’s advancement. This won’t be particularly surprising to most of you regulars at Historiann.com, but it’s a fascinating, granular look at that ol’ devil, patriarchal equilibrium, in action. Even when women succeed by any measure–even after running the gauntlet of hostile academic departments as students and earning their Ph.D.s, M.D.s, and the like–they’re “rewarded” by permanent second-class status however they style themselves. (That is, when they’re perceived as more “successful,” they’re punished for being cold, pushy, b!tchy, demanding, and obnoxious. When they succumb to the pressure to be likable, they’re seen as incapable pushovers and aren’t taken seriously.)
Remember our old “Lessons For Girls,” especially #1, “Anger,” and #7, “It’s okay if not everyone likes you.” Maybe we should add another lesson, “You’ll pay a price, one way or the other?”
I know that many of you–in STEM and non-STEM fields alike–have experienced this in your school and work lives. Tell us your stories.