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Violating the Modesty Norm: Women in STEM June 13, 2013

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Meet Dr. Jessi Smith, a psychological scientist and professor at Montana State University. Dr. Smith’s work focuses on the psychological components and phenomena that impact motivation and achievement. As an expert on factors that impact women in STEM fields, the RAISE Project spoke with Dr. Smith to get some possible answers about what holds some women back. Since 1973, women have obtained 42% of all degrees awarded in STEM fields. This is a glaring difference from the STEM workforce with only 27% of women comprising these jobs.  A jessi smithcloser look reveals that women are paid-less and receive far less recognition for equivalent work as compared to men.

Women also tend to shy away from awards and other platforms that may increase the recognition of women in science. So, what gives? Could this be a case of reinforcing the glass ceiling?

According to Dr. Smith, women feel uncomfortable self-promoting. It goes against the modesty norm. For example, when women are asked to write a letter describing their strengths it tends to downplay accomplishments and successes. These types of “cover letters” are often required for employment and awards so women are unconsciously placing themselves at a disadvantage. In fact, most letters of reference written for women tend to focus on personality over accomplishments. The opposite has been found for males.

Self-promoting is uncomfortable and leads to unpleasant feelings for most women. Violating the modesty norm is salient to women and when women self promote, there is a backlash; people tend not to like them, think of them as narcissistic, or believe they must be hard to work with. So, what can we do?

Dr. Smith conducted a study on women and self-promotion. Participants (women) were asked to write a letter in order to compete for an imaginary award. Half of the participants were seated in a room that contained a big black box that supposedly made noises that caused anxiety. The other half were seated in a quiet room. The purpose of the box was to give participants something to blame when they felt uncomfortable, so when the women began to write their letters they could attribute these uncomfortable feelings to the black box and not to themselves. Results revealed that participants in the black box condition wrote higher quality letters. The opposite was found for the participants who wrote their essays in the quiet room. These results suggest that the cognitive dissonance (i.e. uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that happen when we violate a norm) that occurs as a function of self-promotion directly influences how women present themselves.

Later, Dr. Smith took the essays written by the women in these groups and gave them to a new batch of participants and asked them to rate them in terms of how much award money they would assign to each letter (0-$5000). Women who were in the black box condition were given a significantly greater amount than the women in the quiet room condition.

Now that we know the impact of cognitive dissonance related to violating the modesty norm, perhaps we can overcome it!

Self-promotion can pay off for females in STEM fields. The NSF and NIH currently fund Dr. Smith’s research to the tune of approximately $5 million. She is certainly a scientist to watch. You can check out some of her fascinating work here: http://www.montana.edu/wwwpy/smith.htm


“Bumping Bodies or Beautiful Minds?” – Charlene Sayo May 31, 2013

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Not only do women receive less pay and recognition than their male peers in STEM fields, they are also held to a higher standard for physical appearance. Thoughts? Read all about it here

Female Scientist Award May 20, 2013

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Carnegie Science Center established the Emerging Female Scientist Award to recognize the work of a female leader whose cutting-edge work inspires change in math, science, or technology. When asked about this award the institution indicated that female scientists are not self-nominating or being nominated for many of the other prestigious Carnegie science awards. Read about it here

Why Gender Equality Has Stalled February 20, 2013

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Fabulous article on the realities of compromise:

“This is where the political gets really personal. When people are forced to behave in ways that contradict their ideals, they often undergo what sociologists call a “values stretch” — watering down their original expectations and goals to accommodate the things they have to do to get by. This behavior is especially likely if holding on to the original values would exacerbate tensions in the relationships they depend on.”

Read the full article here. 


Should There Be Affirmative Action for Women in STEM? October 9, 2012

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Hold the (male-designed) phone!

A new Yale study has revealed that there is a pervasive and unconscious bias on university campuses that favors male science students over their female counterparts. The result is fewer women in scientific professions.

What to do, what to do? Quotas? Points? Read on….

Let’s Call It ‘Affirmative Effort’

Nancy Hopkins

Nancy Hopkins is a biology professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Updated September 30, 2012, 7:01 PM

Affirmative action has come to describe two very different types of efforts. One involves lowering standards to achieve diversity. The other does not lower standards, but rather involves taking action to overcome discrimination, including unconscious bias. This type – I’ll call it “affirmative effort,” is essential in providing a level playing field for women who aspire to STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) field careers. I can’t think of another way to confront the unconscious bias recently described in the Yale study.

Unconscious bias, which results in the undervaluation of women and their work, was discovered by psychologists more than 20 years ago. Numerous studies have documented its negative impact on women’s advancement in STEM fields. About 15 years ago universities began to address the problem, particularly at the faculty level, by using more rigorous data-driven approaches to assess merit in hiring, promotion, and compensation.

This “affirmative effort” has been highly successful, increasing the number of women faculty in STEM fields and ensuring equity. It has been less successful in eliminating the underlying problem, namely unconscious bias in the minds of both male and female faculty members, who continue to marginalize and undervalue women and their work in STEM fields.

People often ask, “But if a woman is really good enough, can’t she make it on her own? And can’t a conscious effort to help or support women even exacerbate the problem?” Examination of the data on how women have advanced in STEM fields shows that the answer to both questions is “no.” It’s like asking, “But couldn’t a really great runner win an Olympic race even if he had a 10 pound (invisible) weight strapped to his back?” Women make it by overcoming bias but often at a high cost and probably by not advancing to their full potential.

Affirmative action has become a derogatory term used unfairly to disparage women who advance purely on merit. But we cannot let the common misconception that bias no longer exists stop us from using “affirmative effort” to overcome the unconscious bias that still holds many women back.

Mister Doctor, only? October 1, 2012

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Women make up about half of all medical students and a third of academic faculty, but they are nearly absent in the upper ranks. Great article from NYT highlighting the gap.

Read the Original Here. 

Women Still Missing From Medicine’s Top Ranks


The newly renovated suite of offices for our medical department was beautiful — clean, sleek lines that nevertheless incorporated features of the century-old hospital. The chairman of the department had a new office there, as well as all the division chiefs and the main administrators of the department. It was a plum location.

Danielle Ofri, M.D.Joon Park Danielle Ofri, M.D.

But there was one slight logistical problem: The stalls in the otherwise lovely women’s bathroom were narrow, and all the doors opened inward. For the women who carried bags or purses with them, this arrangement was annoying. For me, pregnant at the time, it was the Berlin Wall.

Upon witnessing my daily struggle to wedge myself and my soon-to-be-born offspring into the stall, my female office mates began a petition to reverse the bathroom doors. Admittedly there are more pressing needs in medicine, but the administrators, secretaries and members of the clerical staff rallied to the cause, and eventually victory was achieved just before my son was born. We even had a party to celebrate the now-famed reversal of the doors. All the women from the suite attended.

It was at the party that I noticed that of all the women who worked in that suite of 30-odd offices, I was the only physician; every other woman was administrative. As I mentally surveyed the men who had offices in the suite, all but one were doctors, and all were in the upper echelons of the department.

We certainly had plenty of female doctors on the faculty, but it was striking to me that in the main suite of the department, the gender lines were stark. The men were senior faculty members, and the women, other than me, were administrative.

This phenomenon is well documented. While women make up about half of all medical students and a third of academic faculty, they are nearly absent in the upper ranks. A recent review in The Journal of General Internal Medicine showed that only 4 percent of full professors are women. Only 12 percent of department chiefs are women. In the survey, men and women were engaged in their work to a similar degree, and both groups had comparable aspirations for leadership roles.

But over all, women did not feel the same sense of inclusion in the medical world as men did. They were not confident about their ability to be promoted, despite their interest in advancement. These findings do not come as a surprise to most women in medicine.

Is it that the medical world remains biased against women, despite the increasing number of women in the ranks? Or is it, as some have postulated, that the culture of the workplace — built around the needs of men for generations — simply remains that way? Despite trends toward more equitable distribution of family responsibilities and more child care services, women still shoulder more of the family burden. For most people, peak career-building years overlap with peak family-building years.

There is also the idea of “possible selves.” If you see lots of women who are doctors, a teenager can imagine that for herself as a possible life. But if you never see any women leading a department, it’s much harder for a junior faculty member to envision that job as a possibility.

No one I’ve spoken to feels there is much deliberate bias in medicine these days. But the lingering unconscious bias involving the various waves of newcomers — women, members of racial and ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians — resonates for many.

Our department has come a long way in the past 10 years. Women are a third of the faculty, though only 12 percent have attained the level of associate or full professor. (For our male counterparts, 30 percent have reached that level.)

There are more female doctors in the office suite now, some of whom are division chiefs. There are female physicians directing the clinics and the residency programs. But on a national level — as reflected in this recent article — most women feel that they aren’t in the inner circles and, more concerning, feel that they aren’t likely to ever get there.

I worry most about what our students and residents draw from this. Do they sense the improvements, even if modest — or do they see a lack of “possible selves” in the upper ranks and direct their energy elsewhere?

The bathroom doors in the women’s room have opened outward for a decade now, so the pregnant staff members at all levels can make their way in. It’s a start, but there’s still a long way to go.

Danielle Ofri is an associate professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine and editor in chief of the Bellevue Literary Review. Her most recent book is “Medicine in Translation: Journeys With My Patients.”

10 Coed Colleges With the Biggest Gender Gap July 18, 2012

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An interesting read covering some of the reasons behind gender disparity in university enrollment.

Read the Original Here. Great graphics go along with this article so it’s best viewed on the original site. Thanks @ Anna Miller for the lead.


Romanian student at Toulouse University wins the Amelia Earhart prize for science and engineering June 19, 2012

Posted by The Raise Project in Uncategorized.

Ten steps up from my UFO hobby. Congrats, Ms. Deaconu!

Read the original here.

Georgia Deaconu, a Romanian doctoral student at the University of Toulouse (France) recently received the prestigious Amelia Earhart scientific prize, awarded annually by Zonta International, according to AFP.

The award, which annually awards women in aerospace and aeronautical engineering, was given to Romanian Georgia Deaconu for her research on autonomous satellite orbit trajectories.

Georgia Deaconu is working on a doctoral thesis at the University of Toulouse III – Paul Sabatier, in the Laboratory for analysis and systems architecture of the National Centre for Scientific Research (LAAS-CNRS), a team co-financed by CNES (National Center of Space Research France) and EADS Astrium.

Zonta International, present in 68 countries, strives to improve women’s right and opportunities, campaigning on their legal status and access to culture, health and education. Established in 1938 in honor of pilot Amelia Earhart, the Amelia Earhart Fellowship is awarded annually to women pursuing Ph.D. and doctoral degrees in aerospace-related sciences and aerospace-related engineering. The Fellowship of USD 10,000 is awarded to 35 Fellows around the globe each year.

Gender Gap Persists in Pay for Physician Researchers, Study Shows June 13, 2012

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After adjusting for factors such as specialty and academic rank, the study found women were paid about $12,000 less on average than their male counterparts annually.

Ladies: Negotiate harder? Be more confident in your professional value? What’s the answer here?

Read the original here.

By Jie Jenny Zou

Female physician researchers are underpaid compared with men in the field, according to a study published Tuesday online in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

A survey conducted by the University of Michigan compared the current salaries of academic researchers who were granted prestigious National Institutes of Health K08 or K23 awards from 2000 to 2003. After adjusting for factors such as specialty and academic rank, the study found women were paid about $12,000 less on average than their male counterparts annually.

“I think we weren’t expecting to find such a substantial, unexplained disparity,” says Dr. Reshma Jagsi, an associate professor of radiation oncology at Michigan. “It’s important to consider the role of unconscious gender bias.”

Jagsi says the purpose of limiting the study to “cream of the crop” of researchers was to avoid what she calls Larry Summers-type arguments. The former Harvard University president sparked uproar by suggesting in a 2005 speech that differences in aptitude might explain why there were fewer women in math and science. The NIH awards the competitive K08 and K23 grants to promising early career physicians pursuing research.

Out of the 800 study respondents, 247 were women, which accurately reflects the gender proportion of physician researchers, Jagsi says. The study controlled for over 30 different factors including hours worked, others grants secured, education level and number of publications.

“No economist is going to expect a study that is this narrow and controlled for this many factors to come up with a wage gap that is this big,” says Betsey Stevenson, a visiting economics professor at Princeton University who written papers on gender-gap policies. “It certainly tells us that are still some important reasons why women are paid less that aren’t simply about the choices that they’re making.”

Researchers found that choice of specialty accounted for some of the differences in salary. Women were more likely to work in sectors such as pediatrics that pay less than surgical positions and other specialties. They were also less likely to hold leadership positions than men.

Stevenson says the gender pay gap can result from several things including peer discrimination and differences between how men and women negotiate salaries and job benefits.

Why Getting Women Into STEM Matters April 16, 2012

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By Amy Tennery

Oh, the hours folks have dedicated to figuring out why women aren’t represented in science, technology, engineering and math — otherwise known as the “STEM” careers.

There’s ample data to show women are just as good — if not better — than men in the STEM career track. And some reports show that simple bias keeps even elementary school-age girls from advancing in math and science, putting the kink in the pipeline at the very earliest stage.

But here’s a question: Exactly why is it so crucial to get women into math and science in the first place? Gender diversity not good enough for you? You need practical reasons for this big STEM push? For the non-believers, a new report from the White House Council on Women and Girls provides some answers — and suggests that non-participation in STEM may be costlier than ever for women.

First, the basics: The report (which we found via U.S. News) shows that women make up just 25% of the STEM workforce. Overall, women make up about 47% of the total labor force, according to recent U.S. Labor Department data, so there’s your discrepancy.

But why does that matter? Why should we care about this disparity? Aside from the fact that we need as many smart, science-y people around as we can possibly get — which, actually, isn’t a bad reason. But let’s approach it from an ensuring-women’s-financial-future standpoint.

For starters — and this really isn’t a big shock — STEM is a growth industry. In fact, the White House Council report showed that it’s set to grow by about 20% in the next 10 years. So if we’d like women to have skilled jobs that might be available at some point in a decade’s time, we should probably shuttle them over that direction. That is, those of us who didn’t fight like hell to survive basic high school math. I’m not pointing fingers here… unless I’m standing in front of a mirror, in which case, I’m pointing fingers. Moving on.

In fact, there’s ample evidence to show that healthcare (i.e. doctors, i.e. science), research and tech are outpacing other careers by a long shot, as we can see from this chart from the BLS:

That giant blue bar at the top represents the kids who took AP Chem, who will be buying their first house before the rest of us pay off student loans. That second, smaller bar, would be all of the people doing scientific research and, generally speaking, saving the world. So, yes, the discrepancy is that big. A decade from now, that could translate to vastly greater job security — job security women won’t have unless they get the chance to move in the STEM direction.

And let’s also look at it from a financial standpoint. (After all, despite what some might say, women do care about making a living.) It turns out, despite their lack of representation, women in science, tech, engineering and math face less of a wage gap than their less technologically inclined peers. The report shows that women in STEM fields earn roughly 14% less than the guys, while ladies in non-STEM careers face a 21% gap. Yes, the gap still exists, but it’s a little better in STEM.

Of course, there are also lots of other reasons that STEM careers are advantageous for both men and women. Education Insider compiled a good list of STEM-pros, including high pay and job availability. But a cushy gig isn’t the bottom line. We’re in a transitioning economy, one in which STEM remains the brightest star. It’s not just a career opportunity — it may just become the career for women.

Original article can be found here http://mashable.com/2012/04/12/women-stem/