Women’s Class Participation Increases With a Woman Instructor and More Women Classmates

A new study led by Elizabeth Bailey, an assistant professor of biology at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, finds that although women make up about 60 percent of undergraduate biology majors in the United States, men are 1.5 times as likely as women to speak up in class.

However, women’s participation in class varied when there were larger numbers of women in the class and when the instructor was a woman. The results showed that having more female peers in the room both significantly increased women’s willingness to talk and improved their scores in the course, with a boost as high as half a letter grade. Having a female instructor rather than a male instructor also predicted higher final scores for female students, whereas male students’ grades showed no difference by instructor gender.

“The number of women in science is growing, but we still have this cultural idea that males belong in science and females don’t,” Dr. Bailey observed. “Research suggests that if women look around a class and think, ‘Oh, I’m not supposed to be here,’ they actually don’t perform as well. A feeling of belonging doesn’t change their ability — but it makes them better able to reach their ability.”

Dr. Bailey holds a bachelor’s degree in biophysics and a Ph.D. in physiology and developmental biology from Brigham Young University. She joined the faculty at BYU in 2018.

The full study, “Female In-Class Participation and Performance Increase with More Female Peers and/or a Female Instructor in Life Sciences Courses,” was published in the website of the journal Life Sciences Education. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/StudySTEM Fields


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