, Volume 65, Issue 9-10, pp 725-736
Date: 06 Feb 2011

The Roles of Perceived Identity Compatibility and Social Support for Women in a Single-Sex STEM Program at a Co-educational University

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Single-sex programs have been implemented in a variety of educational settings to help promote greater engagement of women in STEM fields. However, the mechanisms through which single-sex programs increase women’s engagement in STEM fields are unclear. Drawing from research in social and health psychology, we examined two theoretically-guided predictors of women’s sense of belonging in their STEM majors and belonging at the university: perceived identity compatibility between being a woman and being in a STEM field, and perceived social support. Participants were 65 racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse women enrolled in a single-sex STEM program at a co-educational university in Northeastern United States. Participants completed online surveys before the start of their first year of college, and again at the beginning of their second year of college. Findings from multiple regression analyses support hypotheses that across STEM women’s first or transitional year of college, perceived identity compatibility, perceived support from close others, and perceived support from the single-sex program for STEM women were each independently associated with greater sense of belonging in their major. Additionally, perceived identity compatibility and perceived support from the single-sex program were associated with greater sense of belonging at the university. These findings suggest that perceived support from sources such as single-sex programs and perceived compatibility between one’s field and being female may sustain women pursuing training in nontraditional fields such as STEM. Continued investigation of these factors may elucidate the impact of single-sex programs and inform interventions to increase the retention of women in STEM.