Promoting Gender Equity in STEM Environments
By Malachi Willis
Gender inequity persists in academic settings, especially in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). For example, women are underrepresented in faculty appointments and the peer-review process. One researcher and SPSP member dedicated to rectifying the gendered imbalance in academia—as well as in private and government sectors—is Dr. Toni Schmader.
Dr. Schmader directs Engendering Success in STEM (ESS)—a Canadian-based consortium that brings together social psychologists, STEM experts, and more than two dozen partnering organizations. Over the course of seven years, she says this team will develop and test “interventions across different developmental phases, from reducing implicit gender biases in young children to creating inclusive workplaces in science and engineering.”
To support these endeavors, the consortium recently hosted the first Excellence and Gender Equity in Science and Technology (EGEST) conference at the University of Waterloo in September 2018. Partially funded by a Small Conference Grant awarded by SPSP, the conference was a three-day event focused on engaging stakeholders, developing interventions, and training graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. The EGEST conference assembled a lineup of speakers in the philosophy of science and in social or organizational psychology and also held two discussion panels with experts in educational and industry outreach. Overall, there were more than 120 attendees—many of whom asked if there would be another event soon.
SPSP also recently awarded Dr. Schmader the Daniel M. Wegner Theoretical Innovation Prize, which recognizes the most innovative theoretical contribution to social/personality psychology within a given year. In their paper, Dr. Schmader and her co-author Dr. Constantine Sedikides introduced a conceptual framework referred to as State Authenticity as Fit to Environment (SAFE). True to its name, the SAFE model “suggests that people have a fundamental tendency to seek out environments where they can feel authentic,” explains Dr. Schmader. Applied to gender inequity in academia, the SAFE model can illuminate why women might feel a lack of fit in some STEM contexts.
Young girls and women may not think that STEM activities fit the way they see themselves or contribute to their valued goals. And regarding girls and women whose self-concept and aspirations align with STEM careers, Dr. Schmader says “they still find that the people in those settings are not completely accepting them or respecting their contributions.” Thus, STEM environments can discourage girls and women from developing and pursuing their career goals.
One aspect of STEM environments in academia that Dr. Schmader believes inhibits gender equity is parental leave during the tenure process. The age that women need to build their CVs and the age that they would like to start having children often coincide. Unfortunately, universities tend to be inconsistent in whether they “stop the tenure clock” or provide a paid leave of absence—especially in the United States.
To promote gender equity in the tenure process, Dr. Schmader sees SPSP as a large progressive organization that could “join with other academic groups to lobby for more uniform parental leave policies.” Further, SPSP might consider tailoring funding opportunities or training programs to help women who have experienced productivity gaps due to family responsibilities. These are simply a few examples of steps that can be taken toward realizing a profession that is more equitable regarding gender.
To learn more about Dr. Schmader’s Engendering Success in STEM consortium, visit successinSTEM.ca or follow her team on Twitter (@ess_consortium) or Facebook (@ESSconsortium). She will also more comprehensively examine the underrepresentation of women in STEM through the lens of the SAFE Model at the 2019 Gender Preconference in Portland.