Why are women underrepresented in fields like engineering, physics, economics, and music theory? What can be done to increase the representation of women in these fields?
NYU developmental psychology professor Dr. Andrei Cimpian discussed his research on this topic at the 9th annual Greenwich Academy Symposium. Each year, the Upper School sets aside a half day for students to convene on a topic of national or global consequence. Past conference topics have included global warming, women in leadership, and race and identity.
Dr. Cimpian observed that societies around the word idolize the notion of brilliance, and that brilliance is a trait more commonly associated with men. He hypothesizes that stereotypes about brilliance are an obstacle to diversity in science and beyond because such stereotypes can serve to shape an individual's aspirations and goals. Dr. Cimpian conducts research to study whether women are underrepresented in fields where "brilliance" is perceived to be a requisite for success, and to determine how the effects of these stereotypes on girls and women can be mitigated.
In one survey Dr. Cimpian's Cognitive Development Lab asked 1,820 professors and graduate students to share their field specific ability beliefs; in other words, they asked survey participants if success in their specific field was determined by innate ability (brilliance) or through training and hard work. The results showed a strong positive correlation between representation of women in a field and the perception that hard work and perseverance are what is required to succeed in that field. Conversely, there was a strong negative correlation between female representation and the perception that innate ability is the strongest determinant of success in a field.
Dr. Cimpian cited Google search data analyzed by a colleague which showed that searches for "Is my son gifted?" exceed searches for "Is my daughter gifted?" by a whopping 150%. This is despite the fact that nationally girls are 11% more likely to be enrolled in gifted classes. Conversely, searches linked to determining if a daughter is overweight exceed similar searches for sons by 70%, when in fact boys are 9% more likely than girls to be overweight.
Dr. Cimpian's lab has also conducted a variety of research projects with children. What he's learned is that by age six, girls are starting to buy into stereotypes about gender and brilliance. Dr. Cimpian advises that girls and boys alike should adopt a "growth mindset," a term coined by Stanford University psychology professor Dr. Carol Dweck, to describe a mindset in which "individuals believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others)."
And what better way to develop a growth mindset than to try something new. The second half of the symposium was dedicated to just that, as GA faculty and staff led a variety to classes designed to push the girls beyond their comfort zones. Classes included: learn to solder; wearable art; digital mixing to make new music; and learn the basics of fantasy football.
Symposium organizer and director of the Duff Center for STEM Initiatives, Ann Decker said, "This was clearly a compelling topic for the girls. Dr. Cimpian found their questions following the keynote to be extremely insightful and on par with what he hears from his NYU undergraduates. Giving the girls an opportunity to try something new immediately following the presentation was a wonderful way to illustrate the benefits and importance of adopting a growth mindset."