By Anna Powers for Forbes
It is a known fact that women are underrepresented in the STEM fields, comprising about only a quarter of the workforce. Previously, I written about the benefit of getting more women engaged in the STEM fields, both from an economic and societal perspective. Considering that innovation in the STEM fields drives the backbone of our economy and that the most lucrative majors are in the STEM fields, getting more women in STEM has tremendous benefit for women, such as gaining financial independence, potentially closing the gender pay gap and an opportunity to shape the world.
A recent survey, which looked into the public perceptions and knowledge around STEM revealed some novel insights about gender differences in the perception of STEM. The survey asked 1,030 individuals over the age of 18 in the United States to answer questions in regard to STEM. Although the sample is not representative of the whole US population, it was selected to match the US population along lines of gender, regions, age groups and ethnicities.
One interesting finding is of those who said they were not smart enough to pursue a career in STEM, 60% were women while 40% were men. These finding indicates that women have a diminished perception of their ability to do well in STEM subjects. The question of course arises as to why? Although the answer is multifactorial, a piece of research that aims to answer that question looks at how negative stereotypes affect performance in academic setting. Professor Greg Walton from Stanford University published a study which aimed to understand the stereotype threat and overall scholastic performance. The study suggested "that standard measures of academic performance are biased against women in quantitative fields" due to the stereotype threat, rather than actual ability or potential. The authors indicate that people who face reoccurring negative stereotypes threats have their real world performance undermined and underestimated as the result of the psychological effect of the stereotype. Another study carried out by Professor Greg Walton looked at SAT performance in math and found that due to the negative stereotype and "psychological threat accounts for 57–94% of the gender gap on the SAT-Math test." The findings are both illuminating and shocking. Both results of the survey and the research indicate that women may feel diminished confidence in their abilities, but this in fact is not due to their innate abilities, rather their perception thereof, which influenced by societal factors.