Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why So Few? Women Choose Different Disciplines

One summary of the report "Why So Few?" from Susan Pinker is:

"Women avoid going into STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and math) because hidden cultural signals have persuaded them that women don't have what it takes to succeed in those fields. The few women who do buck these stereotypes then tend to abandon their career plans due to implicit gender biases and university science programs that make women feel unwelcome. Hence, a ratio of women in physical science and math that won't budge past 20 percent, and the title of the report, 'Why So Few?'"

Susan writes further that:

"There's good evidence that on average, women choose different disciplines than men do--or in different proportions--and they do so with their eyes and options open. What about Margaret Chan, the head of the World Health Organization and arguably the world's most powerful public health official, or all the other talented women who go into biology, medicine, dentistry, ecology, pharmacology, neuroscience, or veterinary science, all science programs that were mostly male forty years ago, but are now dominated by women on every university campus? Do the women really choose these fields over physics and engineering because they've been convinced by subliminal forces that their math skills are sub-par?"


At 4/13/2010 11:03 PM, Blogger Ironman said...

I'm surprised that no one looking at these disciplines has quite picked up on the volatility factor inherent in the so-called STEM careers.

Employment in science, technology, engineering and math-driven fields tends to be highly cyclical (given the project-oriented nature of the work in the industries that employ people in these fields). As a result, to sustain a career over the long term, the people in these disciplines have to have a high tolerance for the risk that goes along with that job volatility - it's a primary reason that so many leave these disciplines in favor of more "stable" service-oriented occupations.

At 4/13/2010 11:19 PM, Blogger Benjamin Cole said...

Yeah, women don't go into sewer maintenance, auto repair and the scrap metal business due to sexism. They pick up subtle clues.

At 4/14/2010 7:09 AM, Anonymous geoih said...

STEM are the professional sports of academics. They're very competitive, very risky, and take a huge committment and investment, in both time and money, to even try to join the game. The payoffs are great if successful, and meager to non-existent when not.

I think a more logical question would be why do so many men expend the effort to work in STEM fields. A person in accounting, HR, business operations, etc., can make as much money as an engineer or scientist, without all of the up front effort and investment.

Maybe women are generally smart enough to recognise that spending a huge portion of their 80 or so years of life chasing after a career will little potential for return on investment is not a good bet (especially when so many men are apparently willing to do it for them).

At 4/14/2010 8:27 AM, Blogger Jody Wilson said...

I guess it's up to me to point out the obvious here: The average brains of men and women are different.

From the time they are little girls, women on average have better verbal skills than men - vocabulary, number of words spoken per day, etc. Nobody has any problem admitting this is true. Conversely, men on average from the time they are little boys tend to have better abstract skills, but it apparently makes one a sexist to point out the obvious.

As another example, women's brains on average tend to be better at multitasking, and nobody seems to have any problem accepting this as a fact. The flip side, however, is that men on average are better able to focus on one thing for a protracted period of time, but to say this makes one a chauvinist pig.

Finally, any field that is dominated by one gender will naturally take on the stereotypical characteristics of a women-only or men-only group. If you put a bunch of men together on a construction site or in a physics program, then it's going to take on male characteristics that women may not feel comfortable in. That's the nature of life. I'll wager that men in public administration or social sciences today (82% women) may feel out of place. Are we going to insist on 50-50 gender equality there so that the men will "feel more welcome?"

At 4/14/2010 8:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Somewhat off-topic, AND anecdotal, but I found this quote telling:

"Still, before too long Carrier had handed in her resignation. Why? ... "They wanted to ship me to Albany. Then after that they wanted me to go somewhere else. And I thought, uproot your entire family for a few more dollars? No thanks. I love my city. I love my mom and dad, who live here too. So, no.""

Evidence of CHOICE at work in the so-called gender-wage gap. A man might be more likely to say "Pack up the kids, honey: we're off to Albany!"


At 4/14/2010 2:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My sons' high school separates each incoming class into groups so as to make for a smaller feel to the school. Three years ago when I registered my oldest son the groups were based on future career choice like science, medicine, and arts. Two weeks ago when I registered my youngest son, the counselor said that now students are assigned randomly to groups which are no longer based on career choice. I bet you can guess why. Because when given the choice virtually no females chose science and virtually no males chose arts. In order to have gender diversity among the groups students had to be assigned randomly. I was quite surprised. I had assumed things had changed since I studied engineering in college 35 year ago when there was one coed in a class of over hundred. I guess things haven't changed as much as I had assumed.

At 4/15/2010 9:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder how many women died in the recent coal mine explosion...

Or, um, in *any* coal mine explosion...


At 4/17/2010 1:06 PM, Anonymous Dean said...

They're called the "hard sciences" not because they're more difficult, but because the subject matter responds very reliably to interventions, the theories are deep but simple and make very precise predictions, and the answers to important questions are very well-defined. [I say this actually makes them easier.] There's a precise style of argumentation that is easily recognizable and is well-rewarded even in fields with "softer" content, like economics and philosophy.

On the other hand, managing something like the livestock disease brucellosis requires a much "softer", holistic approach that is found in much of biology, ecology, and other life sciences.


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