Sex Roles

, Volume 78, Issue 7–8, pp 542–560 | Cite as

Professors’ Behaviors and Attributes that Promote U.S. Women’s Success in Male-Dominated Academic Majors: Results from a Mixed Methods Study

  • Katie M. Lawson
  • Laura Y. Kooiman
  • Olyvia Kuchta
Original Article


High rates of attrition of women from male-dominated academic majors may stem from both individual-level personal attributes (e.g., lower confidence in skills; Sax et al. 2015) and non-supportive environmental factors (e.g., chilly climate; Blickenstaff 2005; Hill et al. 2010). Grounded in social cognitive career theory (Lent et al. 1994), the present study utilized a mixed methods approach to identify faculty behaviors and attributes that support women in male-dominated majors and help to prevent attrition. In Study 1, data from eight focus groups involving 23 senior women in male-dominated majors at a mid-sized U.S. Midwestern university were coded to identify common themes exploring why certain professors’ behaviors/attributes are useful to women in male-dominated majors. Results indicated that professors’ behaviors led to learning experiences that helped women create personal connections within departments and provided them with department or career-related information as well as opportunities to gauge/demonstrate their skills to combat the idea that they fit the incompetent-woman stereotype. In Study 2, survey data (n = 65) examined professors’ support, academic advising time, and percentage of female faculty within a department as buffers against the negative effects of sexism on women’s academic achievement, physical health, and social belongingness. Sexist events in the department were associated with women’s reduced sense of belonging, but academic advising time served as a buffer of this association. Overall, our results indicated that proximal environments are important and that professors’ behaviors that support women without singling them out were most helpful.


Women in male-dominated majors Professor behaviors Career development Sexism Women’s achievement Mixed methods 



The authors thank Alex Di Iorio, Katie Matthews, Jenna Stroup, Kendal Franz, Savannah Guimond, Cassie Aker, and Michele Owen for their help with survey testing, data collection, and transcription.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

There are no potential conflicts of interest.

Human and Animals Rights

Human participants were included in the study. Research was approved by the University’s IRB prior to data collection.

Informed Consent

Slightly different informed consents were used for senior, juniors, and sophomores (see below).

Supplementary material

11199_2017_809_MOESM1_ESM.docx (22 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 22 kb)


  1. Almeida, D. M., Davis, K. D., Lee, S., Lawson, K. M., Walter, K., & Moen, P. (2016). Supervisor support buffers daily psychological and physiological reactivity to work-to-family conflict. Journal of Marriage and Family, 78, 165–179. doi: 10.1111/jomf.12252.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Barrera, M., Sandler, I. N., & Ramsay, T. B. (1981). Preliminary development of a scale of social support: Studies on college students. American Journal of Community Psychology, 9, 435–447. Retrieved from Scholar
  3. Beyer, S. (2008). Gender differences and intra-gender differences amongst management information systems students. Journal of Information Systems Education, 19(3), 301–310. Retrieved from Scholar
  4. Bilimoria, D., & Lord, L. (2014). Women in STEM careers international perspectives on increasing workforce participation, advancement, and leadership. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing Inc..CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Blickenstaff, J. C. (2005). Women and science careers: Leaky pipeline or gender filter? Gender and Education, 17(4), 369–386. doi: 10.1080/09540250500145072.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bowman, N. A. (2010). College diversity experiences and cognitive development: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 80, 4–33. doi: 10.3102/0034654309352495.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Byrne, E. M. (1993). Women and science: The snark syndrome. London: The Falmer Press.Google Scholar
  8. Ceci, S. J., Williams, W. M., & Barnett, S. M. (2009). Women’s underrepresentation in science: Sociocultural and biological considerations. Psychological Bulletin, 135(2), 218–261. doi: 10.1037/a0014412.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Cheryan, S., Plaut, V. C., Davies, P. G., & Steele, C. M. (2009). Ambient belonging: How stereotypical cues impact gender participation in computer science. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97, 1045–1060. doi: 10.1037/a0016239.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc..Google Scholar
  11. Dardenne, B., Dumont, M., & Bollier, T. (2007). Insidious dangers of benevolent sexism: Consequences for women’s performance. Interpersonal Relations and Group Processes, 93(5), 764–779. doi: 10.10037/0022-3514.93.5.764.Google Scholar
  12. Enders, C. K., & Tofighi, D. (2007). Centering predictor variables in cross-sectional multilevel models: A new look at an old issue. Psychological Methods, 12(2), 121–138. doi: 10.1037/1082-989X.12.2.121.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Fischer, A. R., & Holtz, K. B. (2010). Testing a model of women’s personal sense of justice, control, well-being, and distress in the context of sexist discrimination. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 34, 297–310. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.2010.01576.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fisher, A., & Margolis, J. (2002). Unlocking the clubhouse: The Carnegie Mellon experience. SIGCSE Bulletin, 34, 79–83. doi: 10.1145/543812.543836.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fitz, C. C., & Zucker, A. N. (2015). Everyday exposure to benevolent sexism and condom use among college women. Women & Health, 55(3), 245–262. doi: 10.1080/03630242.2014.996721.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gadzella, B. M., & Baloglu, M. (2001). Confirmatory factor analysis and internal consistency of the student-life stress inventory. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 28, 84–94. Retrieved from Scholar
  17. Goodenow, C. (1993). Classroom belonging among early adolescent students: Relationships to motivation and achievement. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 13, 21–43. Retrieved from
  18. Gravetter, F., & Wallnau, L. (2014). Essentials of statistics for the behavioral sciences (8th ed.). Belmont: Wadsworth.Google Scholar
  19. Guest, G., Bunce, A., & Johnson, L. (2006). How many interviews are enough? An experiment with data saturation and variability. Field Methods, 18, 59–82. doi: 10.1177/1525822X05279903.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hegewisch, A., Liepmann, H., Hayes, J., & Hartmann, H. (2010). Separate and not equal? Gender segregation in the labor market and the gender wage gap. Institute for Women’s Policy Research Briefing Paper IWPR C377. Retrieved from
  21. Hill, C., Corbett, C., & Rose, A. S. (2010). Why so few women? Women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Washington, DC: American Association of University Women.Google Scholar
  22. Klonoff, E. A., & Landrine, H. (1995). The schedule of sexist events. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 19, 439–470. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.1995.tb00086.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Koch, S. C., Konigorski, S., & Sieverding, M. (2014). Sexist behavior undermines women’s performance in a job application situation. Sex Roles, 70, 79–87. doi: 10.1007/s11199-014-0342-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  25. Lent, R. W., Brown, S. D., & Hackett, G. (1994). Toward a unifying social cognitive theory of career and academic interest, choice, and performance. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 45, 79–122. doi: 10.1006/jvbe.1994.1027.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lent, R. W., Brown, S. D., & Hackett, G. (2000). Contextual supports and barriers to career choice: A social cognitive analysis. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 47(1), 36–49. doi: 10.1037/0022-0167.47.1.36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lent, R. W., Brown, S. D., & Hackett, G. (2002). Social cognitive career theory. In D. Brown (Ed.), Career choice and development (pp. 255–311). San Francisco: Wiley.Google Scholar
  28. Lent, R. W., Brown, S. D., Sheu, H., Schmidt, J., Brenner, B. R., Gloster, C. S., et al. (2005). Social cognitive predictors of academic interests and goals in engineering: Utility for women and students at historically Black universities. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52(1), 84–92. doi: 10.1037/0022-0167.52.1.84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Mathis, S. (2008). Introductory course improves retention, especially for women. Information Systems Education Journal, 6, 1–8 Scholar
  30. Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1984). Qualitative data analysis: A sourcebook of new methods. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, Inc..Google Scholar
  31. Morse, J. (1994). Designing funded qualitative research. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook for qualitative research (pp. 220–235). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  32. Moss-Racusin, C. A., Dovidio, J. F., Brescoll, V. L., Graham, M. J., & Handelsman, J. (2012). Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. PNAS, 109(41), 16474–16479. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1211286109.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  33. National Center for Education Statistics. (2014). Bachelor’s, master’s, and doctor’s degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions, by sex of student and discipline division: 2013–14. Retrieved from
  34. Pascarella, E. T., Martin, G. L., Hanson, J. M., Trolian, T. L., Gillig, B., & Blaich, C. (2014). Effects of diversity experiences on critical thinking skills over 4 years of college. Journal of College Student Development, 55(1), 86–92. doi: 10.1353/csd.2014.0009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Pavalko, E. K., Mossakowski, K. N., & Hamilton, V. J. (2003). Does perceived discrimination affect health? Longitudinal relationships between work discrimination and women’s physical and emotional health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 43(3), 18–33. doi: 10.2307/1519813.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rudman, L. A., & Phelan, J. E. (2008). Backlash effects for disconfirming gender stereotypes in organizations. Research in Organizational Behavior, 28, 61–79. doi: 10.1016/j.riob.2008.04.003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Salomon, K., Burgess, K. D., & Bosson, J. K. (2015). Flash fire and slow burn: Women’s cardiovascular reactivity and recovery following hostile and benevolent sexism. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 44(2), 469–479. doi: 10.1037/xge0000061.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Sanchez, D., & Awad, G. H. (2016). Ethnic group differences in racial identity attitudes, perceived discrimination and mental health outcomes in African American, black Caribbean and Latino Caribbean college students. International Journal of Culture and Mental Health, 9(1), 31–43. doi: 10.1080/17542863.2015.1081955.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Sax, L. J., Kanny, M. A., Riggers-Piehl, T. A., Whang, H., & Paluson, L. N. (2015). “But I’m not good at math”: The changing salience of mathematical self-concept in shaping women’s and men’s STEM aspirations. Research in Higher Education, 56, 813–842. doi: 10.1007/s11162-015-9375-x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Smith, E. (2011). Women into science and engineering? Gendered participation in higher education STEM subjects. British Educational Research Journal, 37, 993–1014. doi: 10.1080/01411926.2010.515019.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Spector, P. E., & Jex, S. M. (1998). Development of four self-report measures of job stressors and strain: Interpersonal conflict at work scale, organizational constraints scale, quantitative workload inventory, and physical symptoms inventory. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 3, 356–367. doi: 10.1037/1076-8998.3.4.356.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Steele, C. M. (1997). A threat in the air: How stereotypes shape intellectual identity and performance. American Psychologist, 52, 613–629. doi: 10.1037/0003-066x.52.6.613.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Steele, J., James, J. B., & Barnett, R. C. (2002). Learning in a man's world: Examining the perceptions of undergraduate women in male-dominated academic areas. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26, 46–50. doi: 10.1111/1471-6402.00042.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Swim, J. K., Hyers, L. L., Cohen, L. L., & Ferguson, M. J. (2001). Everday sexism: Evidence for its incidence, nature, and psychological impact from three daily diary studies. Journal of Social Issues, 57(1), 31–53. doi: 10.1111/0022-4537.00200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Taylor, S. E. (1990). Health psychology: The science and the field. American Psychologist, 45, 40–50. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.45.1.40.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Townsend, S. S. M., Major, B., Gangi, C. E., & Mendes, W. B. (2011). From “In the air” to “Under the skin”: Cortisol responses to social identity threat. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37(2), 151–164. doi: 10.1177/014616721039284.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  47. Tsui, L. (2010). Overcoming barriers: Engineering program environments that support women. Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, 16, 137–160. doi: 10.1615/JWomenMinorScienEng.v16.i2.40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Walton, G. M., Logel, C., Peach, J. M., Spencer, S. J., & Zanna, M. P. (2015). Two brief interventions to mitigate a “chilly climate” transform women’s experience, relationships, and achievement in engineering. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107(2), 468–485. doi: 10.1037/a0037461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Zucker, A. N., & Landry, L. J. (2007). Embodied discrimination: The relation of sexism and distress to women’s drinking and smoking behaviors. Sex Roles, 56, 193–203. doi: 10.1007/s11199-006-9163-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katie M. Lawson
    • 1
  • Laura Y. Kooiman
    • 1
  • Olyvia Kuchta
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychological ScienceBall State UniversityMuncieUSA

Personalised recommendations