The effects of an academic environment intervention on science identification among women in STEM

Abstract

Academic environments can feel unwelcoming for women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Two studies examined academic environments of female undergraduates majoring in STEM fields at a university in the United States. In Study 1, we compared women in STEM who are in a welcoming environment to those in a traditional STEM environment in order to identify factors that may make environments seem welcoming to women. Women in the welcoming environment received more messages about women in STEM, were more likely to wear or carry markers of their major, and had more peer role models in STEM. In Study 2, we developed an intervention based on these factors to improve women’s implicit beliefs about their participation in STEM. In a sample of women in traditional STEM environments, we manipulated exposure to the intervention and the self-relevance of the intervention. The intervention decreased stereotyping concerns and indirect STEM stereotyping, and it increased implicit STEM identification when the intervention was made self-relevant. This research demonstrates the importance of a welcoming academic environment for women in STEM, and it also provides a model for how key elements of intensive university programs targeting women can be translated into a more general approach that reaches a wider audience.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Although our \(-\)3 to +3 scale is not strictly interval, recoding the answer options into a 1 to 6 scale does not change the significance or direction of any outcomes regarding expectations for female representation in STEM.

  2. 2.

    IATs used these words: sciences (astronomy, biology, chemistry, engineering, geology, math, physics), humanities (arts, English, history, humanities, literature, music, philosophy), self (I, me, myself, participant’s name, participant’s hometown), others (others, their, theirs, them, they), female (aunt, daughter, female, girl, grandma, mother, wife, woman), and male (boy, father, grandpa, husband, male, man, son, uncle).

  3. 3.

    Pattern of results and statistical significance are unchanged when participants who failed to notice the manipulation are retained.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported in part by a grant from the National Center for Institutional Diversity at the University of Michigan. The authors wish to thank Kathy Totz for her assistance in collecting data used in this research, as well as the members and administrators of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program at the University of Michigan.

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Correspondence to Laura R. Ramsey.

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STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

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Ramsey, L.R., Betz, D.E. & Sekaquaptewa, D. The effects of an academic environment intervention on science identification among women in STEM. Soc Psychol Educ 16, 377–397 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11218-013-9218-6

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Keywords

  • Self
  • Implicit attitudes
  • Women
  • Science
  • Stereotype
  • Identity