Women Have Higher Standards

August 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?

Avatar By:   |   August 31, 2011


  1. Avatar tina says:

    I am a new member of AAUW and I must say I wished someone would do something about the gender discrimination in corp. America. I do not want another govt law however one might be required. I work for United Health and have for 8yrs. My story is one of struggle to move up. I have paid for my education on my own. I began April of 2001 educating myself. I now have an MBA in CIS and working on my DBA. I have submitted for tuition reimbursement within my org however it is not approved everytime. They say it is because it allows me to grow in the co. and does not enhance my current job skills for my current team. I just laugh at the policy. Who on earth educates themselves to remain stagnant? So I gave up about two years ago applying for it. Then last May I began applying for internal movement like there was no tomorrow. The reason was because my spouse was hired to work for our co. in a lesser responsibility role at the same grade level as me with only a BA and at $15k more. I was so angry. Happy for him since he was laid off from GM but angry that after 8yrs of working o/t like you wouldn’t believe they would do this. This is a huge reason why my thesis will be gender discrimination in the health insurance industry. I have so many stories from female colleauges it is just sad. Even my spouses team full of women with tenure make less than he does. Their education level is equal to his as well as their past work experience. Yet they make 3/4th to 1/2 of what he makes. Well, I was offered internal movement at a $15k increase. I was so happy. However my mgmnt team railroaded me. They went to the hiring mgr of the internal dept and said you cannot have her for 3mths and after you get her she will work 40% for you and 60% for us for several months until we hire and train someone else. The hiring mgr of the other dept gave me this information. He said if the time line was less maybe just the 3mths he would have fought for me but the 2nd candidate on the list could move in less than 2wks. I was so angry. I mean angry. When I presented my full case to mgmnt they simply said we can only give you $5k due to budgets but next year will make it up to you. Next year came, 2011 and when raises came out I got a whole 2%. Found out from other teammates doing lesser jobs they also got 2% and they work only 8hrs. Meaning they do not go the extra mile and stil got the same amount. So I continued to apply internally. Was offered a 2nd internal movement and when the hiring mgr spoke to my current mgr she told them I could not leave as I have many projects and it would hurt my current team if I left. That would have been a $7k increase. So the hiring mgr hired the 2nd person on the list. Now I have a 3rd opportunity and this is a $15k increase. At the same time I submitted tuition reimbursement because the course directly relates to my job and meets all United policies. My mgr said “I do not have the money in the 2011 budget to approve it but if you have something going on in 2012 I will approve that.” I have nothing for the rest of my DBA program that applies and she said, “sorry.” I then looked up our tuition policy and it states any course that ends in December has to be treated differently depending on course end date and grade/expense submission. If receipts are not submitted on or before Dec 14 then that funding will count on the 2012 tuition. Meaning it comes from the 2012 budget. So I copied the policy and emailed my mgr and noted that this course ends 12/14/2011 and grades will not even be out for a week. So that means it can be approved. Now the bomb drops. My mgr said “the real problem is we need a committment from you that you will stop looking for internal/external movement.” I was like WHAT? Isn’t this blackmail? Am I really this vital to this team? Every month we have calls and it is all about improving our skills and helping us grow yet they do not practice what they are talking about. So my response was “I will committ if you committ to match my spouses pay. Otherwise I will never commit.” So, anyone have a take on my situation besides I need to just quit. If I quit I will have to actuall drive to a job because I work from home f/t. I need to do this due to the coursework demands of a DBA program. I have had offers with other organizations but the positions are normally in Philly which is an 84 mile oneway drive and we cannot relocate. We cannot sell our house and the increase in pay is not worth the drive and all expenses. So am I just stuck til I graduate and suffer with this company that treats me like this????? I believe this is wrong on so many levels my treatment but not sure how to proceed other than telling others about my experience.

  2. Avatar Daniel says:

    Seems to be quite a jump from data to conclusion. Let me see if I get this correct. Some women perceive that they need to achieve a higher level for some fictitious skill to be considered “good” at it, and this translates into the conclusion that women hold themselves to higher standards (compared to men) in traditionally “male” fields. Wow ??

    I guess some people feel the need to be good in something no matter how ridiculous it might be.

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