Sex Roles

, Volume 80, Issue 7–8, pp 469–488 | Cite as

A Model of Threatening Academic Environments Predicts Women STEM Majors’ Self-Esteem and Engagement in STEM

  • Bettina J. CasadEmail author
  • Zachary W. Petzel
  • Emily A. Ingalls
Original Article


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.


STEM 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.

Supplementary material

11199_2018_942_MOESM1_ESM.docx (43 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 43 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychological SciencesUniversity of Missouri-St. LouisSt. LouisUSA

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