A Model of Threatening Academic Environments Predicts Women STEM Majors’ Self-Esteem and Engagement in STEM
The present study tested a model of threatening academic environments among a vulnerable population: women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Women in STEM are underrepresented and more likely to perceive their STEM educational environments as threatening than do men. U.S. Women majoring in STEM fields (n = 579) completed a questionnaire measuring each construct of a model of threatening academic environments proposed by Inzlicht et al. (2009). Supporting the model, greater gender stigma consciousness predicted greater gender-based rejection sensitivity. Gender rejection sensitivity predicted more negative perceptions of campus climate. More negative climate predicted more experiences of stereotype threat, which in turn predicted lower perceived control. Lower perceived control predicted greater disengagement from STEM domains, which predicted lower self-esteem. Differences also emerged between women in male- compared to female-dominated STEM subfields and between racial minority and majority women. This model describes how experiences of threatening environments may contribute to the underrepresentation of women in STEM. The model provides an overview for researchers, educators, and practitioners to better understand the relations among hostile STEM climates, experiences of identity threat, and academic disengagement. Interventions addressing environmental and individual factors in the model may improve retention and women’s experiences in STEM.
KeywordsSTEM Achievement gap Gender equality Academic settings Stereotype threat Psychological engagement
Research reported in the present paper was supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01GM094536. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. Earlier iterations of the data were presented at the 14th Annual Meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, New Orleans, Louisiana, the 92nd annual convention of the Western Psychological Association, San Francisco, California, and the 2015 Annual Directors Meeting for the Training, Workforce, and Diversity program of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, Chantilly, Virginia.
The authors would like to thank Breanna Wexler and Jessica Langston for their feedback on this manuscript, Brandon Nakawaki for feedback on the analyses, and Paul Greenley for editorial assistance. We also thank members of the Cal Poly Pomona STEMS Lab and UMSL Social Neuroscience Lab for their assistance with data collection and conference presentations.
Materials and data discussed in this manuscript can be obtained by contacting the first author.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
The research was conducted in compliance with APA’s ethical standards and the study was approved by an Institutional Review Board at the authors’ institutions.
- Ahlqvist, S., London, B., & Rosenthal, L. (2013). Unstable identity compatibility: How gender rejection sensitivity undermines the success of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. Psychological Science, 24, 1644–1652. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797613476048.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Andreu, Y., Galdon, M. J., Durá, E., Ferrando, M., Pascual, J., Turk, D. C., ... Poveda, R. (2006). An examination of the psychometric structure of the multidimensional pain inventory in temporomandibular disorder patients: A confirmatory factor analysis. Head & Face Medicine, 2, 48–56. https://doi.org/10.1186/1746-160X-2-48.
- Arbuckle, J. L. (2014). Amos (version 23.0) [computer program]. Chicago, IL: IBM SPSS.Google Scholar
- Bird, S. T., & Bogart, L. M. (2001). Perceived race-based and socioeconomic status (SES)-based discrimination in interactions with health care providers. Ethnicity & Disease, 11(3), 554–563.Google Scholar
- Byrne, B. M. (2013). Structural equation modeling with AMOS: Basic concepts, applications, and programming (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Casad, B. J., & Bryant, W. J. (2016). Addressing stereotype threat is critical to diversity and inclusion in organizational psychology. Frontiers in Psychology: Organizational Psychology, 7(8). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00008.
- Casad, B. J., Oyler, D. L., Sullivan, E. T., McClellan, E. M., Tierney, D. N., Anderson, D. A., … Flammang, B. J. (2018). Wise psychological interventions to improve gender and race equality in STEM. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations.Google Scholar
- Cheryan, S., Plaut, V. C., Davies, P. G., & Steele, C. M. (2005, May). “I’m not a geek”: How the sociocultural representation of computer science affects women. Paper presented at the Midwestern Psychological Association Annual Meeting, Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
- Eccles, J. S. (2007). Where are all the women? Gender differences in participation in physical science and engineering. In S. J. Ceci & W. M. Williams (Eds.), Why aren’t more women in science? Top researchers debate the evidence (pp. 199–210). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/11546-016.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the management of a spoiled identity. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
- Harackiewicz, J. M., & Priniski, S. J. (2018). Improving student outcomes in higher education: The science of targeted intervention. Annual Review of Psychology, 69, 409–435. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-122216-011725.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Hernandez, P. R., Schultz, P. W., Estrada, M., Woodcock, A., & Chance, R. C. (2013). Sustaining optimal motivation: A longitudinal analysis of interventions to broaden participation of underrepresented students in STEM. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(1), 89–107. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0029691.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Hyde, J. S. (2007). Women in science: Gender similarities in abilities and sociocultural forces. In S. J. Ceci & W. Williams (Eds.), Why aren’t more women in science? Top researchers debate the evidence (pp. 131–145). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/11546-011.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Inzlicht, M., Aronson, J., & Mendoza-Denton, R. (2009). On being the target of prejudice: Educational implications. In F. Butera & J. Levine (Eds.), Coping with minority status: Responses to exclusion and inclusion (pp. 13–36). Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511804465.002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Jones, E. E., Farina, A., Hastorf, A. H., Markus, H., Miller, D. T., & Scott, R. A. (1984). Social stigma: The psychology of marked relationships. New York: Freeman.Google Scholar
- Judge, T. A., & Bono, J. A. (2001). Relationship of core self-evaluations traits—self-esteem, generalized self-efficacy, locus of control, and emotional stability—with job satisfaction and job performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 80–92. https://doi.org/10.1037//0021-9010.86.1.80.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Kenny, D. A. (2015). Measuring model fit in structural equation modeling. Retrieved from https://davidakenny.net/cm/fit.htm. Accessed 7 May 2016
- Loose, F., Regner, I., Morin, A. J. S., & Dumas, F. (2012). Are academic discounting and devaluating double-edged swords? Their relations to global self-esteem, achievement goals, and performance among stigmatized students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104, 713–725. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0027799.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Mendoza-Denton, R., Downey, G., Purdie, V. J., Davis, A., & Pietrzak, J. (2002). Sensitivity to status-based rejection: Implications for African American students' college experience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(4), 896–918. https://doi.org/10.1037//0022-3522.214.171.1246.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- National Science Board. (2014). Science and engineering indicators 2014. Arlington, VA: National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind14/.
- National Science Foundation (NSF), National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. (2015). Women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in science and engineering: 2015. Special report NSF 15–311. Arlington, VA. Retrieved from http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2015/nsf15311/tables.cfm.
- Nelson, D. J., & Rogers, D. C. (2003). A national analysis of diversity in science and engineering faculties at research universities. National Organization for Women. Retrieved from https://users.nber.org/~sewp/events/2005.01.14/Bios+Links/Krieger-rec4-Nelson+Rogers_Report.pdf. Accessed 17 Jan 2013
- Rosenberg, M. (1979). Conceiving the self. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
- Satorra, A., & Bentler, P. M. (1994). Corrections to test statistics and standard errors in covariance structure analysis. In A. von Eye & C. C. Clogg (Eds.), Latent variable analysis: Applications for developmental research (pp. 399–419). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
- Sax, L. J., Jacobs, J., & Riggers, T. (2010). Women’s representation in science and technology (STEM) fields of study, 1976-2006. In Annual meeting of the Association for the Study of higher education (ASHE), November 2010, Indianapolis.Google Scholar
- Schmitt, M. T., Branscombe, N. R., Kobrynowicz, D., & Owen, S. (2002). Perceiving discrimination against one’s gender group has different implications for well-being in women and men. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 197–210. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167202282006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Schultz, P. W. (2012). [The science study]. Unpublished raw data.Google Scholar
- Shapiro, J. R., & Neuberg, S. L. (2007). From stereotype threat to stereotype threats: Implications of a multi-threat framework for causes, moderators, mediators, consequences, and interventions. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 11, 107–130. https://doi.org/10.1177/1088868306294790.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Shih, M. J., Pittinsky, T. L., & Ho, G. C. (2012). In M. Inzlicht & T. Schmader (Eds.), Stereotype threat: Theory, process, and application (pp. 141–156). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Skinner, E. A., Wellborn, J. G., & Connell, J. P. (1990). What it takes to do well in school and whether I've got it: A process model of perceived control and children's engagement and achievement in school. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 22–32. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-06126.96.36.199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Son, D., & Shelton, J. N. (2011). Stigma consciousness among Asian Americans: Impact of positive stereotypes in interracial roommate relationships. Asian American Journal of Psychology, 2(1), 51–60. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0022651.
- Sparks, P., Guthrie, C. A., & Shepherd, R. (1997). The dimensional structure of the perceived behavioral control construct. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 27, 418–438. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.1997.tb00639.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Spencer, S. J. (1993). The effect of stereotype vulnerability on women’s math performance (doctoral dissertation). University of Michigan.Google Scholar
- Tibbetts, Y., Harackiewicz, J. M., Canning, E. A., Boston, J. S., Priniski, S. J., & Hyde, J. S. (2016). Affirming independence: Exploring mechanisms underlying a values affirmation intervention for first-generation students. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 110, 635–659. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspa0000049.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
- U.S. Census Bureau. (2014). Annual estimates of the resident population by sex, age, race, and Hispanic origin for the United States and States: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2013. Retrieved from http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=bkmk.
- University data. (2009). Institutional statistics, California state polytechnic university, Pomona.Google Scholar
- Walton, G. M., Murphy, M. C., & Ryan, A. M. (2015). Stereotype threat in organizations: Implications for equity and performance. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 2, 523–550. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-032414111322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Woodcock, A., Hernandez, P. R., & Schultz, P. W. (2016). Diversifying science: Intervention programs moderate the effect of stereotype threat on motivation and career choice. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 7(2), 184–192. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550615608401.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar