Friday, July 13, 2012

Talk to me, ladies!

I heard an interesting piece on NPR yesterday. I definitely suggest listening to it, if you’ve got the chance. In short, when women talk to men about their work in science and math, they sound less competent.
The authors of the study hypothesize that women fall prey to the “stereotype threat”. They know that women are supposed to be bad at math and science, so while talking to a man they are aware on some level that they are less competent than the man. Interestingly, this phenomenon does not occur when women talk to other women.

  Here’s what I took away from this: first, talk to women about science. In the study, talking to other women energized the researcher. And while I’m talking to them, encourage them!  It’ll give us both a chance to live free from the stereotype threat.

  Second, try to prevent the stereotype threat from happening in the first place. I think I was lucky, in that I don’t remember hearing that I was supposed to be bad at math, or even a situation where I felt the stereotype. Lucky, or just had great parents (which I know is true) – I remember crying when I couldn’t get into a more advanced math class because I KNEW I was smart enough. At some point, I became aware that is was a "thing", perhaps when the Barbie that said “math is hard” came out (I really think that’s when I became aware of it). So talk with girls about math and science, and don’t tell them what they’re bad at.

  Finally, perhaps I can be conscious of how I talk to fellow male colleagues. If I take the advice I’ve talked about in past posts, I should always wear a lab coat, stand in an open position, and pretend the listener is a woman. I’m being a bit factitious - if only it was that easy - but if I try boosting my confidence, I’ll serve as a counter-example.  Take that, perceived stereotype!


  1. I heard that story, too, and it did make me think, especially after coming back from several days of conferencing with people in all possible gender combinations. I think there might be something to it (and also explains why I now vastly prefer to work with women!) Here is a quote for you for the day " More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary"...

    Hugs, Rachel

  2. I read that article and remember tripping up on that quote. In general, I agree with the opinion's premise that we're too busy, sometimes just for the sake of being busy. But that quote...!! Today I made a digestion reaction...wonder if a boa constrictor ever did that?