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Biological, Social, and Organizational Components of Success: For Women in Academic Science and Engineering
adolescents. Bruce McEwen provided evidence of differential responses to stress and suggested that there may be sex differences in learning strategies. On the basis of data showing that the influence of experience on brain development is strong and lifelong, Giedd and McEwen independently suggested that any difference between males and females be viewed more as an opportunity for education and research than as an intrinsic constraint on cognitive capability.
There was some discussion among the panelists on whether sex differences in cognition were large enough to account for the size and nature of the discrepancies between male and female representation among academic scientists; disagreement centered on the degree to which small differences could accumulate over time and have a substantial effect on careers. In that context, Diane Halpern proposed a biopsychosocial model of development, in which experience alters the biological underpinnings of behavior, which in turn influences the types of experiences to which we are exposed.
GENDER STEREOTYPES AND ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE
Science and engineering are widely stereotyped as male domains in American culture. That context influences the performance of those not expected to succeed, explained Toni Schmader. A person’s belief that he or she belongs to a group stereotyped as inferior in a given ability may, when combined with certain contextual cues, trigger a phenomenon termed stereotype threat by Claude Steele. When this happens, the person’s cognitive performance, particularly on tests of mathematics ability among women and tests of general intellectual ability among members of racial and ethnic minorities, is negatively affected. Schmader explained that contextual factors, such as predominant stereotypes, can discourage people, especially women and minority-group members, from aspiring to and pursuing science and engineering education and careers and from taking leadership roles. They also reduce their chances of being accepted into educational programs whose admission requirements emphasize test scores.
Pervasive unexamined bias against women in science and engineering influences evaluations of women scientists’ motivation, determination, promise, seriousness, and productivity and can undermine the perception of the quality of their work throughout their careers, explained Mahzarin Rustum Banaji. Small differences in advantage can accumulate over the span of a career into large differences in status and prestige. That results in male scientists often receiving greater rewards for their accomplishments than female or minority-group scientists, said Donna Ginther.
Modern gender bias, in addition to being pervasive, is automatic, ambiguous, and ambivalent, said Susan Fiske, who presented data showing the female gender