Women Have Higher StandardsAugust 31, 2011
Each month this year, AAUW is teaming up with Nature Publishing Group, one of the world’s leading science publishers, to put together an online forum on women in science. The AAUW posts highlight findings from our 2010 research report, Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, now in its third printing.
Perhaps the most interesting finding from sociologist Shelley Correll’s study (introduced in yesterday’s post) is that when men and women were told that men were better at a fictitious skill, women and men held different standards for what constituted high ability at that skill.
In the group that was told that men were more likely to have “contrast sensitivity ability,” women believed they had to earn a score of at least 89 percent to be successful, but men felt that a minimum score of 79 percent was sufficient to be successful — a difference of 10 percentage points!
In the group that was told that there were no gender differences in “contrast sensitivity ability,” women and men had much more similar ideas about how high their scores would have to be to think that they were good at the task: Women said they would need to score 82 percent, while men said they would need to score 83 percent.
This finding suggests that women hold themselves to a higher standard than their male peers do in “masculine” fields like science and engineering. The result is that fewer women than men of equal ability assess themselves as being good at math and science and aspire to science and engineering careers.
Does this research ring true to you? Have you noticed that women tend to believe that they must be exceptional to be successful in science?