Mind the Gap: Framing of Women’s Success and Representation in STEM Affects Women’s Math Performance under Threat

Abstract

Interventions designed to combat the negative effects of stereotype threat have primarily taken an individual-based approach. The current study sought to expand upon these strategies by taking a group-based approach to reduce stereotype threat effects. Specifically, we investigated whether the success and numerical representation of women in STEM positively impacts women’s math performance and affective reactions. We hypothesized that 1) women under threat (control) would perform worse than men; 2) there would be a larger performance difference for women than men when exposed to the success and balanced representation of women in STEM compared to the control condition; 3) there would be a larger performance difference for women than men between the balanced condition and the unbalanced condition where women are portrayed as successful, but not equally represented in STEM. For this study, male (n = 56) and female (n = 66) U.S. undergraduates from a large southern California state university read information about women’s success and representation in STEM (or no information), completed a math exam under stereotype threat conditions, and then expressed their threat-based concerns. Results revealed that women performed worse than men in the control condition. Women in the balanced condition performed better than women in the control and unbalanced conditions. Men’s performance was unaffected by the balance or imbalance of women in STEM. Women’s affective reactions largely mirrored the performance results. This study provides compelling evidence for using a group-based approach highlighting women’s advances in STEM to alleviate stereotype threat.

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Correspondence to Emily S. Shaffer.

Appendix

Appendix

Balanced Condition

Recent Study Shows Men and Women Nearly Equal in STEM

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Over the last 50 years, women have been clearly outnumbered in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. However, a recent study by the Department of Education shows that this gender imbalance is getting smaller.

The Department of Education has been collecting statistics on the number of men and women in STEM fields for the last 25 years. The first study revealed that men outnumbered women 4 to 1 in these fields and careers. Over the years, the number of women present in STEM fields has gradually increased. This latest study, which used data collected from 2007 through 2008, revealed that women now appear in these careers in nearly equal numbers to men.

Megan Gallo, head of the Mathematics department at University of California, Berkeley, expressed her satisfaction with this recent finding. “Finally, the statistics are reflecting what we already know. Women are just as able and successful in STEM as their male counterparts.”

Gallo also noted that women have been recognized for their achievements in STEM fields. Notably, in 2003, Susan Morris received the Fields Medal, the Nobel Prize equivalent, for her continued work in Mathematics.

Ultimately, this study reveals that women have gained ground in historically male dominated fields.

Unbalanced Condition

Gender Gap in STEM Closing, But Still Far To Go

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Over the last 50 years, women have been clearly outnumbered in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. However, a recent study by the Department of Education shows that this gender imbalance is getting smaller.

The Department of Education has been collecting statistics on the number of men and women in STEM fields for the last 25 years. The first study revealed that men outnumbered women 4 to 1 in these fields and careers. Over the years, the number of women present in STEM fields has gradually increased. This latest study, which used data collected from 2007 through 2008, revealed that women are moving into these fields and beginning to rival men.

Megan Gallo, head of the Mathematics department at University of California, Berkeley, expressed her satisfaction with this recent finding. “Finally, the statistics are reflecting what we already know. Women are just as able and successful in STEM as their male counterparts. However, it is important to realize that women haven’t yet achieved equality to men. I hope that a future study reveals even more progress made by women in STEM.”

Gallo also noted that women have been recognized for their achievements in STEM fields. Notably, in 2003, Susan Morris received the Fields Medal, the Nobel Prize equivalent, for her continued work in Mathematics.

Ultimately, this study reveals that women are gaining ground in historically male dominated fields, but more strides do need to be made to achieve equality.

Control Condition

Anniversary of SDSU Approaches

SAN DIEGO – This upcoming school year marks the 113th anniversary of San Diego State University. In 1897, the University opened as the San Diego Normal School with only 91 students who attended classes above a pharmacy. The Normal School was designed to train female elementary school teachers and it wasn’t until 1935 that other fields of study were offered.

Today, SDSU has over 30,000 students enrolled each year in 85 different undergraduate majors. SDSU also offers 75 master’s programs and 14 joint doctoral programs. Among colleges with 14 or fewer PhD programs, SDSU has been ranked number one as the most productive research university for the past four consecutive years. SDSU is also among top ranked schools in fields of education, international business, social work, and biology.

Due to the demands of the continuously expanding student body, the building of Arts and Letters and the Calpulli Center were opened in the 2006–2007 school year. The Imperial Valley branch campus was opened in 1959, and just recently graduated its first 4-year class.

San Diego State University has come a long way since its modest beginnings as a small teacher’s college. Its success has been made possible by continued support from students, faculty, staff and alumni.

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Shaffer, E.S., Marx, D.M. & Prislin, R. Mind the Gap: Framing of Women’s Success and Representation in STEM Affects Women’s Math Performance under Threat. Sex Roles 68, 454–463 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-012-0252-1

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Keywords

  • Stereotype threat
  • Social progress
  • STEM
  • Math performance