Gender Tracking in Higher Ed

The small numbers of women working in some STEM fields deters female students from majoring in these subjects, setting up a vicious cycle.

range of factors explain how women are functionally steered into certain fields of study and out of others: Female students continue to encounter biases and stereotypes when it comes to the types of majors and future jobs they “should” pursue, including the notion that science and math programs are better suited for men. When women do enter male-dominated fields, they encounter harassment and gender-devaluing biases.

  • Women do major in some STEM fields, but their numbers are lower in the higher-paying areas: Women earn 60% of degrees in biology and life sciences, but only 20% of degrees in engineering and 19% of computer and information science bachelor’s degrees. An estimated 40% of women who study engineering either don’t enter the field or leave it once they do.
  • Women, especially women of color, cite the lack of sense of belonging, not relating to science as part of their personal identity, gaps in perceived competence by others and themselves and challenging developing interpersonal relationships with peers as reasons for leaving science or math majors.
  • number of studies find that bias against women is the strongest factor in women not pursuing traditionally male dominated degrees, including in many areas of math, science and technology.
  • Some documented biases or differences in treatment based on gender in STEM higher education have included: underestimation of women’s capabilities compared to male peers; gender-role treatment such as expectations of performing more service work than male peers; receiving less credit and fewer citations for their publications than male peers; and experiencing sexual harassment and other forms of harassment.
  • Women engineering students cite a range of factors that perpetuate male domination– including the ways classes are structured and taught in college, such as use of authoritative teaching styles and communication, internship options where women are more likely to be tracked to more people-facing jobs and men to the more technical jobs; and unwelcoming or condescending interactions and treatment by faculty and peers.
  • Studies have found male and Asian post-doctoral STEM candidates are rated as most competent and hirable, while Black female and all Latinx candidates are rated lowest.