If there is a belief that women’s brains are different when it comes to science and engineering, then how does that affect the perception of women who are already in the area of study?
There is no question that we lack women in academia in many fields. In academia, women are still the minority in publications. Even with increasing numbers of enrollment of women in STEM fields, only a small fraction of publications are written by women across many fields. Part of the issue is that far fewer women want to go into academia or research than men. While 72% of women start off wanting to pursue research as a career upon entering a PhD program, 61% of men feel the same way. Yet, at the end of a PhD program the number of women drops to 37% while the number of men only drops 59%. This is a huge gap and drop in interest.
As a graduate student, I can think of many different reasons why one would not want to go into academia, or continue into research. There are the politics, the competitive environment, obnoxious university policies, long work hours from teaching and getting research funding, but in the end these things seem that they would drive both men and women away. There may be other subtleties to look at when approaching this gender imbalance as well. While I have had some female professors outright tell me they have never experienced any form of harassment during the time of their professorship, I’ve also heard many female voices from the other end of the spectrum saying harassment is a huge problem for women at universities. I’ve found some interesting reads on this subject.
When men and women were both asked why there were fewer women in fields such as physics, the responses were different. A study from Rice University sheds light on whether gender leads to different interpretations of discrimination and why women may choose to leave a field. An excellent blog post sums up some of these findings. The study showed that it was the women who were more likely to say discrimination was a reason for women not choosing fields such as physics. Men were more likely to cite differences in the brain between men and women for the different choices. This study exposes some of the issues surrounding discrimination and its potential for keeping women from advancing in male dominated fields such as physics. It’s a concern when the target gender is far more likely to cite discrimination as a factor for not staying in a field than the majority gender in a field. Furthermore, if there is a belief that women’s brains are different when it comes to science and engineering, then how does that affect the perception of women who are already in the area of study?
There are some excellent websites out there which allow for people to put forth some of the problems women in academia face. These websites give some great insight into what it is like for women in academia, and are not just limited to the STEM fields.