A new study published in PNAS reports that female engineering students who are exposed to a higher percentage of female peers in small group interactions have increased levels of motivation, greater verbal participation, and feel more confident in their engineering career aspirations. This finding could have far-reaching implications for the gender imbalance that currently exists in engineering and related fields.
A hallmark of the public conversation regarding science education is the issue of gender parity. Fewer women than men pursue jobs and education in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and those women who do enter these fields are more likely to leave than their male counterparts. In the US, women comprise only 28 percent of the workforce in these areas, despite being half of the population and getting closer to parity in others.
This gender differential begins during education. In their first year of college, women are less likely than men to state an intention to pursue STEM education, and those numbers continue to fall throughout their first few undergraduate semesters. Though the women who initially said they’re intending to major in STEM fields are well prepared academically, they report feeling less confidence in their skills and a decreased motivation to pursue a STEM career compared to male peers.
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