Study Finds That Women Rated as “More Feminine” Are Less Likely to be Identified as Scientists

banfam-48Sarah Banchefsky, a postdoctoral researcher in social psychology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and her research associates showed photographs of 80 women scientists in STEM fields to a group of student participants in a research study. The participants were asked to guess whether the women in the photographs were scientists or early child education teachers. The participants also rated the photographs on a scale of masculine to feminine appearance.

The published results showed that the women who were rated as most feminine in appearance were the least likely to be identified as scientists. Women who were rated as being the most masculine in appearance were the most likely to be identified as scientists.

Dr. Banchefsky, the lead author of the study, states that “we knew there were accounts out there in the literature for decades that women (scientists) can’t wear skirts if they want to be taken seriously. They are seen as ‘too feminine.’”

“People use variation in women’s feminine appearance as a cue to her career,” Dr. Banchefsky continued. “This is important because it means that people don’t have to be asked to consider a woman’s appearance for it to still affect their judgments about how likely she is to be scientist.”

Dr. Banchefsky is a summa cum laude graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

parkBernadette Park, a professor of social psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado and a co-author of the study, added that “these feminine-looking women have ‘heard’ verbally or nonverbally that they don’t look like scientists, that they don’t belong in these male-dominated, highly prestigious fields. The message that your appearance matters and that it is relevant to your career choice likely leads other women — as undergraduates, as high-school students and even as young girls — to conclude they just don’t fit with science.”

Professor Park is a graduate of the University of Oregon. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in social psychology from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

The article, “But You Don’t Look Like A Scientist!: Women Scientists with Feminine Appearance Are Deemed Less Likely to be Scientists,” was published in the journal Sex Roles. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/StudySTEM Fields


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