Gender balance in small groups makes a big difference

Can’t see if this article has been posted anywhere already. It’s about a study on female engineering students and finds that having female peers is just as important as female experts in the field. Apparently, internalising negative stereotypes about oneself is more prevalent when one is a minority, while being in the majority lessens this.

Based on the research assistants’ observations, the researchers found that all subjects, regardless of age, were significantly more active in group problem-solving when they were in the female majority group than when they belonged to groups with equal genders or female-minority composition.

They suggest that if women are in a minority overall, grouping them together can help overcome the problems with negative stereotypes enough that they feel more confident participating (although they are talking education here, rather than in the field itself).

I’ve not read the paper itself, I hasten to add, but I thought it seemed interesting, given some of the discussions that we’ve had about women-only spaces.

That’s really interesting. I wonder if it’s worth incorporating in to the advice to teachers in the educational pack?

ETA: I’ve moved this to the Educational Resources section, because I think this is relevant.

If you put this together with the research that Geena Davis quotes in her NPR interview on women in the film industry (I’ve never been able to actually find the original research), that found that men think that when women in a group reach 17% they think there’s parity, and when women reach 30%, men think that women dominate, it would seem to indicate that it’s important early on to put girls in female-majority groups in order to boost their confidence, and to put boys in female majority groups in order to acclimatise them to being in the presence of more than a minority of girls.


Abstract (my bold):

For years, public discourse in science education, technology, and policy-making has focused on the “leaky pipeline” problem: the observation that fewer women than men enter science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields and more women than men leave. Less attention has focused on experimentally testing solutions to this problem. We report an experiment investigating one solution: we created “microenvironments” (small groups) in engineering with varying proportions of women to identify which environment increases motivation and participation, and whether outcomes depend on students’ academic stage. Female engineering students were randomly assigned to one of three engineering groups of varying sex composition: 75% women, 50% women, or 25% women. For first-years, group composition had a large effect: women in female-majority and sex-parity groups felt less anxious than women in female-minority groups. However, among advanced students, sex composition had no effect on anxiety. Importantly, group composition significantly affected verbal participation, regardless of women’s academic seniority: women participated more in female-majority groups than sex-parity or female-minority groups. Additionally, when assigned to female-minority groups, women who harbored implicit masculine stereotypes about engineering reported less confidence and engineering career aspirations. However, in sex-parity and female-majority groups, confidence and career aspirations remained high regardless of implicit stereotypes. These data suggest that creating small groups with high proportions of women in otherwise male-dominated fields is one way to keep women engaged and aspiring toward engineering careers. Although sex parity works sometimes, it is insufficient to boost women’s verbal participation in group work, which often affects learning and mastery.

I don’t know if this is the best place to put it, but it seems to fit. There’s a new tumbler, “congrats, you have an all male panel”. It’s depressing.

The one that blew my mind was this one: