Category: Women's Issues / Gender

Symposium

"Am I Working Harder Than Everyone Else?": Paradoxically Negative Impact of Hard Work on Women's Retention in STEM

Sunday, November 19
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Indigo 204, Level 2, Indigo Level

Keywords: Women's Issues | Career Development | Gender
Presentation Type: Symposium

Recent research has revealed when women perceive a great deal of work is required for them to succeed in STEM (i.e., high effort expenditure), they tend to feel a low sense of belonging and motivation in STEM fields. However, it is not yet known why effort expenditure deters women from STEM. We assessed a possible mechanism behind women’s effort expenditure in STEM and low STEM pursuits: women’s perception that others are questioning their STEM aptitude. Specifically, we surveyed women and men undergraduate computing majors on the following: (a) the amount of time spent studying, (b) thoughts about leaving one’s computing major, and (c) the perception that others in the computing department pass judgment on one’s computing capability. For women, spending more time studying predicted a greater tendency to think about leaving one’s major. This relationship was driven (mediated) by the perception that others in their department question their computing ability. We found no such mediation relationship for men. Importantly, our analysis controlled for students’ computing major GPA; thus, this effect occurred irrespective of women’s objective performance. This finding is reminiscent of the “imposter syndrome”, such that even high achieving, hard-working women worry that others believe they are not capable of the work. Importantly, feeling judged by others was strongly related to students thinking about leaving their major. Together, this work may help explain why very few women end up pursuing some STEM careers.  This research also suggests that “growth mindset”, or the belief that aptitude can grow with effort, may not be beneficial for women in STEM. That is, while growth mindset is conventionally believed to boost students’ motivation, our work suggests that this may not be the case for women: working hard in STEM may actually have a negative impact on women’s self-concept. 

Jane G. Stout

Director
Center for Evaluating the Research Pipeline

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