A new study by Wellesley College's Linda Carli shows despite significant progress, women are still thought to lack the qualities needed to be successful scientists, a mindset that could contribute to discrimination and prejudice against women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.
The study compared how men, women, and scientists as a whole are perceived by both genders, marking the first time research has examined the overlap of gender stereotypes and stereotypes about scientists.
Carli used students at the all-women's Wellesley College to measure the effect this environment might have on stereotypes, and found only the women from the study who attended a single-sex college saw a meaningful similarity between women and scientists. "It may be that women attending women's colleges have greater exposure to female scientists, and this may shift their stereotypes about successful scientists to be more like women," Carli says.
In general, scientists are perceived as more competitive and willing to take risks, and these characteristics have the greatest overlap with how men also are perceived. Meanwhile, women are thought to be more communal, associated with qualities such as helpfulness and kindness.
Carli says the data suggests the challenges women face as potential scientists may go beyond the perception that science is a poor match with women's communal goals or that more scientists are men and not women.
From Wellesley College
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