Addressing Unintended Consequences of Gender Diversity Interventions on Women’s Sense of Belonging in STEM

Abstract

Validated interventions that increase bias literacy (i.e., knowledge of gender bias) and decrease sexism are critical to addressing pervasive gender biases in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). However, interventions that highlight existing gender inequities may inadvertently act as a social identity threat cue for women. Including identity-safe cues in diversity interventions (i.e., suggesting that women are valued in STEM) may lessen these problematic outcomes. To explore this possibility, we conducted three experiments utilizing Video Interventions for Diversity in STEM (VIDS), a validated diversity intervention relying on high quality videos to convey the existence of gender bias in STEM. Consistent with prior research, relative to control conditions, VIDS led to greater bias literacy and lower gender bias among both men and women (Experiments 1 and 2) and encouraged women’s intentions to take collective action (Experiment 2). At the same time, compared to control conditions, VIDS resulted in lower sense of belonging in the sciences, greater negative affect, and greater self-reported social identity threat, both among women from the general U.S. population (Experiments 1 and 2) and female scientists (Experiment 3). Including identity-safe cues, which present a positive female scientist role model (Experiment 2) or suggest that gender bias can be overcome (Experiments 2 and 3), helped alleviate VIDS’ harmful effects on women’s belonging and trust in the sciences, but had limited impact on stereotype threat. These findings highlight the need for researchers and practitioners to examine potential unintended negative consequences of diversity interventions and investigate techniques to buffer such outcomes.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank the leaders of the Summer Institutes for assistance with participant recruitment, playwright Dipika Guha, biological sciences consultants Matthew Akamatsu and Jessica Miles, and Sean P. Lane for advice about data analysis. This research was funded in part by Alfred P. Sloan Foundation grants #213-3-15 to the sixth and last author and #B2013-38 to the sixth author, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor grant to the last author.

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Correspondence to Evava S. Pietri.

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This research was conducted in compliance with APA standards regarding the treatment of human participants. All participants received an online informed consent form prior to taking part in the experiments, and were provided with a thorough debriefing.

This research was funded in part by Alfred P. Sloan Foundation grants #213–3-15 to the sixth and last author and #B2013–38 to the sixth author, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor grant to the last author.

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Pietri, E.S., Hennes, E.P., Dovidio, J.F. et al. Addressing Unintended Consequences of Gender Diversity Interventions on Women’s Sense of Belonging in STEM. Sex Roles 80, 527–547 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-018-0952-2

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Keywords

  • Bias literacy intervention
  • Social identity threat
  • STEM