In a new piece in PNAS, Dasgupta,Scircle & Hunsinger demonstrate the
importance of team gender composition. They show that females have greater
participation, self-confidence, and career aspirations when they are
assigned to teams with more females.
Abstract: 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