Why Aren’t More Women in Science Careers?

Why Aren’t More Women in Science Careers?

We see plenty of successful female doctors and lawyers – but why aren’t more women excelling in science? According to The Huffington Post, we’ve heard a lot of answers over the years, from the controversial “women just aren’t as good as science” (that idea forced a Harvard president to resign), to concerns about having time to raise children.

It’s an interesting debate, since doctors have to study just as much science as engineers and scientists do, and both doctors and lawyers often have high-stress, time-consuming jobs. New research suggests that maybe the disparity is a result of the way women perceive careers in science and engineering.

According to Miami University psychological scientist Amanda Diekman, women may be rejecting careers in science because they perceive these careers as lacking in communal values like intimacy, altruism and connection with people. It’s been well documented that women embrace communal values more than men, who tend to value individuality and power. Perhaps women see scientific laboratory jobs as too lonely and not about helping people?

Diekman and other researchers asked a large group of young men and women – 19 years old, on average – about their career preferences, and also about their values and goals–whether they were driven by a desire for power and success or by intimacy and altruism. They also asked them to rate a whole list careers according to these values. Finally, they measured their math and science ability–and their confidence in these abilities.

The results, published online in the journal Psychological Science, showed that the more strongly the students embraced values like intimacy and human connection, the less interested they were in science and math careers. And most students with these communal values were women. It had nothing to do with ability or past performance – it had to do with their perception of scientific careers.

But that’s the thing – many scientists are trying to help mankind by making discoveries. If we want to see more women in the lab, we’ll need to convince them of that!