Promoting the success of underrepresented students in STEM
We develop evidence-based interventions in academic environments that increase social belonging, promote confidence, and increase student retention in STEM.
Some of our work focuses on girls and young women’s experiences in the physical sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics—fields where women are a small numeric minority in classrooms and the workplace. We find that when young women see women scientists, engineers, or mathematicians in real life, through media stories, or when they meet female peers in work teams or through mentoring, such experiences promote their confidence, motivation, willingness to speak up, and career aspirations in STEM. Thus, exposure to women scientists, engineers, and peers in STEM function as “social vaccines” that vaccinate young women’s mind against negative stereotypes. The benefits of our interventions extend well beyond the initial intervention; in some cases, for as much as two years.
We also find that young women benefit from reading stories about women who are professional leaders. However, this is only the case if these women leaders’ successes are framed as achievable. When women leaders are promoted as ‘superstars’ whose talent was innate and unusual, they didn’t inspire other women’s aspirations. In fact, sometimes they deflated others’ aspirations.