Women’s rights and Education: How research from sociology psychology and education can help the issue

by Rose D. on May 12, 2015 - 10:25pm

Today’s society has a problem on it’s hands. Indeed, the lack of women in high positions in scientific disciplines like engineering or mathematics isn’t something that can be ignored. Even  though women perform equally well or even better than men in lower levels of education, when entering the world of work, the gap is widely noticeable. In a recent post, I wrote a summary of a news article which explained that, of the 62.2% of adult women with a medical degree against to the 37.8% of men, only a quarter of these women become doctors. One of the problems that comes with this situation is that these kinds of gaps reinforce gender stereotypes quite strongly. Currently, sciences and mathematics are the sources to our technological advances, which means that these disciplines are powerful to our society. The exclusion of women from science would also mean an exclusion to powerful positions and, of course, equality.

Many of the explanations to why women aren’t prominent in science reflect an underlining sexism. They say that women aren’t committed to the demands of science because they put more importance in family, or they say that women lack the mental capacity needed for science. An example of this type of attitude would be when Lawrence Summers gave a speech in January 2005, at a Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce. He claimed that women do less well in science because they don’t have the type of brain for excellence in maths and logic. This is terribly damaging to attitudes towards women in science because he is a leader in science, as he was the President Emeritus at Harvard University.

He identified three main reasons for the lack of women in science: the high-powered job hypothesis, the different availability of aptitude at the high end hypothesis and the different socialization and patterns of discrimination in a search hypothesis (Summers, par. 2). The first hypothesis suggests that women are less committed to jobs than men. The second, which Summers favoured, postulates that women are less apt in higher levels of performance. The third states that women are often discouraged in the pursuit of science and engineering carriers because of discrimination or stereotype threat. It can be argued that the high-powered job hypothesis can be addressed with better day-care and working conditions. The idea that women are less intelligent than men is widely refuted, as discussed in my previous post discussed before. This paper will show that stereotype threat is the one of the main reasons to blame for the lack of women in these scientific disciplines.

    At first, an explanation to what stereotype threats consist of would be necessary to understand the problem at hand. To clearly explain what this phenomena is, the academic discipline of sociology will be explored in this paper. The first academic journal that will be analyzed will be Maya A. Beasley’s and Mary J. Fischer’s sociological research paper “Why they leave: the impact of stereotype threat on the attrition of women and minorities from science, math and engineering majors”. Previously, I wrote a summary of an article by Cailin O’Connor called “Are Women Worse at Math? It's Time to Stop Asking” from the Huffington Post, which was the reason to why I’ve started to grow an interest for this issue. Cailin O’Connor has a good summary to what stereotype threat is, but it is now time to go deeper. Stereotype threat isn’t a phenomena that is distinctive to women, but it affects any person of different gender, race and origin. It mostly works in the same way for any person: when faced with a simple reminder of what kind of person an individual is, this individual will undergo stereotype threat and will perform less well (or better) on tests. To see how stereotypes affected people of different races and genders, Beasley and Fischer explored statistics describing the variety of people that entered and graduated the STEM program (the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). From their study, the two sociologists discovered that “In all cases, except for African-Americans, women were far less likely to enter intending to major in STEM than their male counterparts. Specifically, 18% of Black and Asian women intended to major in STEM while 17% of White women and only 14% of Hispanic women did so” (Beasley and Fischer 437). The reason why women are more likely to drop out the STEM program compared to men was explained in a following study that showed that women generally scored higher in performance anxiety in the STEM program when faced with tests (439). In the U.S. women are typically stereotyped as less good at maths and science. From the data found in this study, it is clear that stereotype threats are prominent when women are faced with tests involving maths and science and that they are surely the reason why there are less women to proceed life in scientific disciplines as a career.

    By using the evidence that stereotype threats are truly genuine, this paper will proceed to explain how the problem cannot simply be fixed by being conscious about it. To support this statement, the academic discipline of psychology will be focused on. The second academic journal that will be summarized will be Carlo Tomasetto's and Sara Appoloni’s research paper “A lesson not to be learned? Understanding stereotype threat does not protect women from stereotype threat”. In this article, the two psychologists conducted a study to depict whether or not having the knowledge of the effects of stereotype threats can benefit to performances. To fulfil their study, they chose 58 women and 60 men  from the ages of 18 to 34 years old as participants. Half of the participants were given information about stereotype threats and the others were not. Then they given a maths test. The results showed that men were not affected by reading about stereotype threat, but the women who read about stereotype threat performed less well in the maths test: “The results of our experiment showed that the presentation of
research findings demonstrating that women’s math aptitude is hampered by societal stereotypes, and not by lack of innate ability, triggered a paradoxical negative effect on women’s math performance and appraisals” (Tomasetto and Appoloni 209).

    So, if knowing about stereotype threat will not help women protect themselves from the phenomena, how will they be able to overcome the problem? To answer this question, the final academic discipline of education will be discussed. The last academic journal that will be analyzed will be by Lisa Hollis-Sawyer and Thomas P. Sawyer, Jr. “‘By the Numbers:’ Language-based and Competency
Enhancing Math Instruction to Alleviate Older Women’s Math Stereotype Threat Reactions”. This article explains how manipulating the presentation of mathematics to people can enhance their understanding of the topic by using stereotype threat advantageously. The method used to show this was by introducing math as numbers and presenting math as language. Regardless of age, women performed better when maths was presented as a language “The positive impact of the ‘math as language/competency enhancing’ instructional condition in preliminary results appeared to benefit both younger and older women learners in both personal attitudes toward math ability, general learning capability, and testing performance behaviours” (P. Sawyer, Jr. and Hollis-Sawyer 169). The authors speculated that the women had increased confidence because it reinforced society’s stereotypes that women are better at verbal intelligence. Additionally, the authors reinforced the role of education in the whole issue by stating that “As educators,
it is vital to identify impediments to learning so appropriate, supporting instructional interventions may be implemented in the classroom” (P. Sawyer, Jr. and Hollis-Sawyer 168).

This specific statement correlated to a previous post which explains about the introduction to women in Singapore of an educational program which sought to educate women in the details of financing to help them learn the general principles and help them save their earnings responsibly for their retirement. In that country, many women are home-makers or have dropped out during their prime working age to take care of their family, so it is important for them to receive education that is appropriate for their learning and that helps them adapt easily to the new information that they receive about financing.

    In conclusion, stereotype threats are surely one of the biggest reasons to blame for the lack of women in scientific careers. Assuming that women equally are as smart as men and as committed as men, the reason why women don’t succeed as well in scientific disciplines is caused by stereotypes found in society. These can be overcome by changing our attitude towards women and changing our approach to the teachings of science and the structure of the scientific career.


Works Cited

Beasley, Maya A., and Mary J. Fischer. "Why they Leave: The Impact of Stereotype Threat on the Attrition of Women and Minorities from Science, Math and Engineering Majors." Social Psychology of Education : An International Journal 15.4 (2012): 427-48. ProQuest. Web. 10 May 2015.

Hollis-Sawyer, Lisa, and Sawyer,Thomas P.,Jr. ""by the Numbers:" Language-Based and Competency Enhancing Math Instruction to Alleviate Older Women's Math Stereotype Threat Reactions." International Journal of Education 6.3 (2014): 157-74. ProQuest. Web. 10 May 2015.

Masetto, Carlo, and Sara Appoloni. "A Lesson Not to be Learned? Understanding Stereotype Threat does Not Protect Women from Stereotype Threat." Social Psychology of Education : An International Journal 16.2 (2013): 199-213. ProQuest. Web. 10 May 2015.

Summers, Lawrence H. “Remarks at NBER Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce” Wayback Machine. Wayback Machine, January 30, 2008. Web. May 10, 2015.

Articles stated in essay (in order):





Your article gives an in-depth understanding of sexism, stereotypes, and a lot more pertinent information about female issues with education and future career. It is clear that you are informed in multiple disciplines, but I would suggest exploring studies of men and women’s life habits. By doing so, you could learn about what difference there is at a lower level of education, or finishing their education, and compare it with life habits when they work in their field. As you mention in your text, “women perform equally or better than men…”, and as I have conducted a study about “Life Satisfaction and Academic Performance” in my Introduction to Methodology class, I was about to recognize the difference between men and women’s performance. I conducted a graph that represent the average of men and women. The graph shows that: men have lower averages than women overall. What could be done to build on the work would be to search for a pattern of successful students and employees in order to apply the technique of success for both women and men to reduce the chances of having sexism issues.

You show very good insight and I like the concrete studies that you bring up to prove that gender stereotype threats have a serious effect on women's performance in scientific fields. You've already brought up some main points to explain the lack of women in higher end jobs by talking about child-care and socialization, but allow me to elaborate some more of these topics. The opportunities lost due to having to take care of children is referred to as the "Mommy Track", and is the most impactful when the woman takes a maternity leave after giving birth, leaving her job for a few months. To balance things out, one solution would be to implement a paternity leave of the same duration for fathers. This way, employers will not be biased to hire men instead of women because they would both end up taking a break in the case of child birth. Another useful term for your article would be "Glass Ceiling", which refers to an invisible barrier that prevents women and minorities race from climbing too far up the corporate ladder. This is due to an unconscious bias where people think that all of the prestigious jobs should be occupied by white males in our patriarchal society. Here are some Wikipedia links if you are interested in learning more: