Want a STEM Career? Don't Try to Be Like a Man

It's really a no-brainer.

But a new study has found that being more like men doesn't work for women. At least, not in STEM careers.

According to newswise.com, even when women were more like men 20 to 40 years ago, it didn’t help them get a job in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, says study author Sharon Sassler, professor of policy analysis and management. 

 I can remember back to those days (though you wouldn't find me in a STEM career to save my life) when women wore blouses with bow ties and dark suits, tried to talk about sports, even scuttled their plans for marriage and kids, in an attempt to be taken seriously by the male executives in our lives. 

We learned the hard way it didn't work.  And now, it seems, we're learning again.

The study found that when women planned to delay marriage and limit the number of children they wanted – which would let them focus exclusively on work – they didn’t get the same employment opportunities in STEM as men. Of those graduating with a STEM degree, 41 percent of women and 53 percent of men were employed in a STEM job within two years of completing college – a statistically significant difference, the study reports.

“These women have the characteristics of the ideal worker. They expect to have few family distractions and work in STEM both within five years and at midlife. They really have strong aspirations,” Sassler says. “But they were no more likely to enter STEM jobs than women who anticipated marrying young and having two or more children. If women aren’t getting into these STEM jobs, then they’re not there to mentor other women. They’re not there to climb the ladder and help with hiring."

Nothing new there.

Not surprisingly, employer bias was one potential reason for the STEM employment gap, the researchers conclude.

“You would think that a woman who intended to limit her fertility would be more hireable in demanding jobs,” Sassler adds. “Men with similar family preferences, however, were more likely than women to transition into the STEM workforce. The women were not seen as desirable as men who said the same thing.”

 The more things change, the more they stay the same.

“If a woman with a STEM degree said she didn’t want children, her peers and employers didn’t seem to believe her,” says another researcher.

Another major reason for the employment gap was women’s under-representation in STEM majors, the study said.

While only 15 percent of women earned a STEM degree, nearly 33 percent of men did. Moreover, men were significantly more likely than women to get degrees in computer science and engineering, majors that translate most frequently into a STEM job. In contrast, more women majored in life sciences, but often found non-STEM work.

Ideas about the roles men and women should play may also have kept women out of STEM jobs, the researchers note. Men in the study had more conservative views, saying that women should be responsible for domestic and childcare responsibilities. In contrast, women said couples should share housework and childcare.

 And one more reason.  “Women might have perceived potential colleagues or the broader STEM climate as too conservative to work in,” researchers assert.


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