Gender Stereotypes Still Affect Female Scientists
March 18, 2013

Gender Stereotypes Still Affect Female Scientists

A recent study from the University of Maryland (UMD) has shown that women academics are less likely than their male counterparts to be invited to join corporate scientific advisory boards (SABs), but these same women are also less likely to start new companies. Why is that you ask? Well, according to the study, “From Bench to Board: Gender Differences in University Scientists’ Participation in Corporate Scientific Advisory Boards,” the reason is simply gender stereotyping.

Yep. Still in 2013 gender stereotyping keeps women from corporate involvement. The co-authors of the study, Waverly Ding from UMD, Fiona Murray of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Toby E. Stuart of the University of California Berkley (UC Berkley), explain that “beliefs that women lack leadership and business savvy, and are not capable of helping new ventures attract investment, block their advancement in these areas” according to a UMD press release. The UMD study was recently published in the Academy of Management Journal.

The researchers further show that women are available to join SABs since almost 30 percent of about 6,000 PhDs from U.S. universities or research institutes are women; however, only 7 percent of those served on SABs. What do women have to do to get their feet in the corporate doors? With women like Oprah Winfrey and Marissa Mayer, not to mention the umpteen other female CEOs (not to mention college and university presidents), how is it possible that the stereotype that they lack leadership and business savvy still exists?

I understand that cultural ideas and history impact the present, but at some point the gender inequality must be overcome. Stereotypes are dangerous in all cases. Here, we see that stereotypes of women have prevented their ability to step into the SAB arena. They have hardly been given a chance to disprove the gender stereotypes.

According to Ding, “academia can effectively counteract the inequity…‘University scientists have helped create at least half of the publicly traded biotech firms operating today, and our data shows a female professor is most likely to draw a science advisory board invitation by tapping into her school’s technology transfer office,’ says Ding. ‘Biotechnology founders strongly gauge an SAB candidate’s reputation and quality of his or her network in determining that individual’s business savvy.’”

The problem, though, is that many institutions do not formally support technology transfer offices. These offices provide a way for administrators to raise the profile of their high-performing female (and male for that fact) scientists, which would then raise networking and exposure of the institutions, yet some still do not have such offices. Why is that?

I know that I am a woman, thus it might seem like I am getting on a high horse out of personal effrontery to this issue, but the gender stereotypes move beyond just me. Here we have an example of women who have not had the same possibilities as their male peers simply because of stereotypes.

Stereotypes of all manners inhibit those they are applied to. If one sees a female scientist who has been successful, worked hard, and received different accomplishments, she should not be discounted simply because the stereotype that women “lack leadership” exists out there. That kind of misogyny is both dangerous and unfair. Frankly, all stereotypes are dangerous and unfair. Now that this study shows the inequity, we all have an opportunity to work to fix it. Gender should not influence this. As Ding said, “Our nation’s continued preeminence in science and technology will depend on engaging the best and the brightest, regardless of gender.”

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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