A New Study by Three Women Scholars Shows Why the Gender Gap in Physics Matters

A new study by women researchers at Miami University, Wright State University, and California State University, Dominguez Hills examines why there are so few women in academic physics and offers recommendations about what can be done to achieve greater gender diversity.

The authors point out that women now earn nearly 60 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in the United States but make up just 20 percent of physics majors, and that number has remained static over the past 20 years. The authors state that “women are especially underrepresented in physics because of a complex interaction of factors, including an unusually chilly climate for women, worse policies and resources for female faculty, and pervasive cultural stereotypes about the inaccessibility and masculine nature of physics.”

Adrienne Traxler, an assistant professor or physics at Wright State University and a co-author of the study explains why increasing the number of women and members of other underrepresented groups is important by noting that “if you have people from only a small subset of experiences, the range of ideas that they have and the range of ideas that they get and are discussing with each other is limited. The more diverse your pool of scientists is in terms of backgrounds, the more perspectives you have on a problem. And in the long run, having those extra perspectives matters.”

The authors recommend expansion of the number of research camps and other programs designed to attract young girls and women to the sciences, raising the awareness of male physics professors about not making discouraging comments to female students and establishing a physical space where physics majors can gather with their peers so they can form their identities as scientists together.

The study concludes, “simply put, research always involves people. To ensure an intellectually vibrant and diverse future for our discipline, we must find ways to work together using practices that support inclusion rather than exclusion in our classrooms and labs.”

The full study, “Gender Matters,” was published in Physics Today. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/StudySTEM Fields


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