Being a Numerical Minority in a Male-Dominated Profession

Richman, L. S., vanDellen, M., & Wood, W. (2011). How women cope: Being a numerical minority in a male-dominated profession. Journal of Social Issues, 67(3), 492-509.

How have the small, but growing, number of women in math and engineering coped with the social identity threat that accompanies minority status? Richman, vanDellen, and Wood investigated factors associated with women’s resilience in male-dominated academic environments. The authors hypothesized that female engineers would be less sensitive to social identity threat than women in disciplines that have a greater gender balance. In addition, they expected that this would be particularly true for engineers with a strong sense of belongingness, which may stem from experiencing fair treatment rather than discrimination, exposure to female role models, and family social support. The participants were 31 female faculty from a male dominated discipline (engineering) and 27 female faculty from several gender balanced disciplines (e.g., anthropology, history, sociology). Each was asked to complete a questionnaire measuring discrimination experiences, exposure to female role models, and family support. They were then asked to view a brief video advertising a conference that was either gender-imbalanced (the attendees were primarily male) or gender-balanced (there were equal numbers of female and male attendees) and then answer a survey assessing interest in attending the conference. Results indicated that engineers’ interest in attending the conference was less sensitive to the gender balance of attendees than that of participants from the gender balanced disciplines. This decreased susceptibility to social identity threat among engineers was associated with perceptions of fair treatment and exposure to female role models. Family social support increased interest in attending the gender-imbalanced conference for both the engineers and the non-engineers. The authors suggested that efforts to provide fair treatment, role models, and social support may be critical in facilitating the entry of more women into male-dominated disciplines.

Making Connections

Gender discrimination
Role model
Self concept
Social identity threat
Stereotype threat

Media Supplement

This NPR podcast explores reasons for the shortage of women in Silicon Valley. (3 min 59 sec)