Stereotypes of Women & Minorities in STEM

We speak to social neuroscientist Professor Chad Forbes, who will explain how stereotype threat impacts women and minorities in STEM. Stereotype threat describes how negative ideas about minorities can affect their ability to succeed in science. Negative experiences at school, narrow media images of scientists, lack of role models and other experiences of exclusion can impact on young people’s performance and interest in STEM.

Stereotype threat can be triggered by repeating the idea that girls don’t usually do well in maths tests; or alternatively that Black people typically don’t do well in science. In experiments, students who are reminded of their minority status just before sitting a test tend to do poorly, whereas kids who are not reminded tend to do as well as White boys.

Stereotype threat has a cumulative effect, beginning from the age of five, when young children are told that girls and boys should have different interests and that people of colour have different skills to White people. As these ideas continue throughout schooling, stereotype threat has been shown to prevent women and minorities from pursuing STEM professions. It can contribute to the “leaky pipeline,” as individuals feel at risk of confirming stereotypes and they fear doing badly in STEM due to the stigma of being a minority. When women and minorities face educational or professional difficulties they have been conditioned to consider whether their gender or race is incompatible with their pursuit of STEM. This can lead to some people dropping out of STEM courses.

Chad will speak with us about how stereotype threat works in a day-to-day sense, as well as exploring the unconscious biases that people in STEM have, which can contribute to women and minorities feeling unwelcome. Chad will talk about how attention and memory are affected by negative stereotypes, as well as how genetic predispositions, cognitive processes and neurophysiological issues play a role in internalising stereotype threat. He’ll tell us about his research exploring how and why such biases are created in the first place. We’ll address how we can all tackle stereotype threat to improve diversity in STEM.

You can read more about Chad’s research on our Event page and pose questions ahead of time!

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