Professors’ Behaviors and Attributes that Promote U.S. Women’s Success in Male-Dominated Academic Majors: Results from a Mixed Methods Study
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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.
KeywordsWomen 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.
Slightly different informed consents were used for senior, juniors, and sophomores (see below).
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