Women feel inferior and less suited to Stem jobs than men
Women limit their ambitions around careers in science, technology, engineering and maths partly because of a mistaken belief that they lack the necessary intelligence, according to new research on Stem and gender at university.
Even when they study a Stem course at third-level, they subscribe to the stereotypical image of the scientist being male and more intelligent than them.
Female Stem undergraduates have already overcome any earlier barriers to pursuing Stem study at third-level, such as a lack of subject choice in post-primary school.
Researchers said it could be argued that having "managed to navigate this gendered terrain at post-primary level" female undergraduates were a committed cohort with a strong Stem identity.
But they found that was not necessarily the case and that women carried biases that could be self-defeating in terms of how they see their future careers.
The study focussed on the perceptions of female students and its purpose was to see if they identified with the culture of science, technology, engineering and maths.
It asked male and female students if they associated certain traits - such as intelligence, creativity, being family oriented, co-operative, sociable - with a scientist, and then with themselves.
"The greatest differences between male and females existed in relation to how intelligent they viewed themselves to be, with less females stating they were especially intelligent," the report states.
The study, conducted under the auspices of EPI*STEM, the National Centre for Excellence in Stem Education, based at the University of Limerick, was recently published in the 'Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education'.
It posed a range questions exploring female perceptions of women in science, and unearthed a strong belief that women and men should have equal opportunities in Stem.
However, in some areas, women were less convinced with only 87pc believing that women and men were equally smart in maths and only 60pc agreeing that they have the same educational and employment opportunities.
Overall, the study found that these female undergraduates believe social bias, balancing work and family life and lack of role models were the main cause of fewer women in Stem professions and leadership positions.
The research, led by Dr Regina Kelly of EPI*STEM, calls for changes in the culture experienced by female Stem undergraduates so as to improve their trajectories.
The report states that "it is important to note the lack of change in relation to gender stereotypes in Stem".
Even though the students may not agree with the gender stereotypes, the report says they are aware of the uphill struggle faced by women.
The report expresses concern about how female undergraduates lack belief about their competencies and appear to have an image of scientists that does not align well with their own science identity.
The female tendency to be less inclined to associate with traits such as "being intelligent" or "knowing a lot about recent discoveries", were additional to "implicit biases that can be self-defeating in terms of their career proficiencies and progression".
Similarly, a female student believing that female scientists are not family orientated, while in parallel claiming that they themselves are family orientated, is less likely to consider science as a suitable career.