Photo Credit: Verizon commercial

Last summer Verizon released a commercial promoting women pursuing math and science. It reminded us how much our words can impact the decisions girls and daughters make.

While most girls state at a young age that they enjoy science, most do not pursue the field as a long-term career choice. While some of that is due to personal preference, society’s stereotypes often box in women to specific roles. This causes – at the very least – an implied battle against sexism in engineering and math fields.

Difference of Standards

Women tend to be held to different standards than men when it comes to the workplace environment —discouraging them from staying and carving out a career path. Often, women are judged either “too feminine to be competent, or too masculine to be likeable.” Essentially, it’s often a lose-lose situation for women in almost any workplace.

Thankfully, many businesses are creating policies which make it easier for women to pursue their dream careers. And are, in fact, trying to encourage women to enter their organization through specific benefits and policies. Despite this, there is still some work which needs to be done in order to minimize the problem.

Stereotyping

When women believe a stereotype – or even that the stereotype exists – it does harm performance levels. In social psychology, this effect is known as “stereotype threat.” For example, a certain study gave men and women of equal skill level a mathematics test. In one group, the proctor told the students that women usually do not do as well in math as men before handing out the test. In the other group, no such statement was made and the students simply took the test.

Interestingly enough, despite the fact that both groups of students were on a level playing field, the female students who were reminded of the stereotype did significantly worse on the test compared to the men. On the other hand, when women were not reminded of the stereotypes, they performed at essentially the same level as men.

Essentially, what the research implied, was that despite the skill levels of women in a field, stereotypes can hinder and place mental barriers where there should be none. It’s a very subtle, but also very harmful when it comes to the battle against sexism in the sciences.
Missing Opportunities

Also, studies have been done that women don’t pursue an opportunity until they feel 100-percent qualified for the task. Men, however, feel as if they can take advantage of any prospective opportunity as long as they’re 60-percent qualified. What does this imply? Women don’t pursue opportunities even if they are more qualified than men.

How do we address these problems?

Stop enforcing stereotypes. Let women know that they can pursue the same opportunities as men if they so desire. The current policies which are being enacted by different businesses are now encouraging women to enter technology, engineering, and science fields. Now more than ever, we have women specializing in these industries in colleges and universities. However, there is still much work that should be done to encourage women and to discourage negative stereotyping. It’s a long process, but as we all do our part, we can make a difference.