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Supporting Prospective Women in STEM Starts With Accessible Mentors


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Mentoring.

A University of Washington study found an unwelcoming culture and a lack of mentors were the main deterrents to women considering STEM careers.

Credit: collegeaftermath.com

A University of Washington (UW) study examining gender disparities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) found an unwelcoming culture and a lack of mentors were the main deterrents to women considering STEM careers.

The researchers found the differences between more and less gender-balanced fields were due to the presence of an overtly masculine culture in the classroom. They say this culture reinforced stereotypes about who is able to achieve in STEM roles, as well as a lack of relatable role models.

An insufficient early exposure to courses in computer science, engineering, and physics also is a significant factor, as students who lack prior experience often are discouraged from taking introductory courses and applying to STEM programs.

Mentorship activities, such as UW Engineering Discovery Days, enable current STEM students to share their projects and experiences in the field with K-12 students.

UW professor Sapna Cheryan says mentorship does not have to be limited to women in the field. "Our role model studies that we have done in the past have shown that men can be just as good role models for women if they make themselves relatable," she notes. "This is something that people of all genders can participate in."

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