The negative effect of stereotype threat on women is not limited to mathematics performance. Women exposed to gender stereotypic commercials expressed less interest in academic and vocational domains in which they risked being negatively stereotyped, such as mathematics and engineering; they expressed more interest in neutral domains, such as creative writing and linguistics. Kray and colleagues showed that women’s ability to negotiate was undermined by stereotype threat.87 When participants were told that a test was diagnostic of negotiating ability, men expected to perform better and made more extreme opening offers than women. When traits that are stereotypical of men were experimentally linked to effective negotiators and traits that are stereotypical of women were linked to ineffective negotiators, men performed better than women in negotiations. Taken together, the findings show that activation of negative stereotypes can have a detrimental effect on women’s interest and performance in domains relevant to success in academic science and engineering.
The present situation of women in scientific and engineering professions clearly results from the interplay of many individual, institutional, social, and cultural factors. Research shows that the measured cognitive and performance differences between men and women are small and in many cases nonexistent. There is no demonstrated connection between these small differences and performance or success in science and engineering professions. Furthermore, measurements of mathematics- and science-related skills are strongly affected by cultural factors, and the effects of these factors can be eliminated by appropriate mitigation strategies, such as those used to reduce the effects of stereotype threat.
Because sex differences in cognitive and neurological functions do not account for women’s underrepresentation in academic science and engineering, efforts to maximize the potential of the best scientists and engineers should focus on understanding and mitigating cultural biases and institutional structures that affect the participation of women. These issues and successful strategies to enhance the recruitment and retention of women in science and engineering are discussed in the following chapters.