Howto: Stop Worrying About Female Brain Hard-Wiring and Get Smarter

This post was originally published at Geek Feminism.

This Ask a Geek Feminist question is about stereotype threat:

What can I do when stereotype threat is playing games with my head?

To give an example, I once had to take an IQ test at school in seventh grade. One section of the test included rotating three-dimensional objects in your head. The test was designed so that each section starts easy and then gets progressively harder. It is supposed to get so hard that there comes a point where you can’t continue any longer and then the tester stops that section of the test. On that section of the test, I managed to hit a window on the score because I got to the very end, having correctly answered all the questions in the object rotation section. The tester, who did these tests for a living, was astonished and he said he had never seen anyone come close to getting all of them.

As an adult, I heard the stereotype that women cannot rotate three-dimensional objects in their head. I heard it many times. Since I started hearing that, I have lost my ability to do so. I’ve tried some rather basic tests on this skill and I can hardly do any of them.

What can one do about this sort of thing?

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Environmental and social barriers restrict women in science, tech, engineering, and math.

Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (PDF) is a new, publicly-accessible research report by AAUW that “presents in-depth yet accessible profiles of eight key research findings that point to environmental and social barriers – including stereotypes, gender bias and the climate of science and engineering departments in colleges and universities – that continue to block women’s participation and progress in science, technology, engineering, and math.”

The report is quite comprehensive, and summarizes and integrates studies from different research areas. At the end of each chapter are practical recommendations based on research findings. Here is a list of the detailed chapters: Chapter 1: Women and Girls in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics; Chapter 2: Beliefs about Intelligence; Chapter 3: Stereotypes; Chapter 4: Self-Assessment; Chapter 5: Spatial Skills; Chapter 6: The College Student Experience; Chapter 7: University and College Faculty; Chapter 8: Implicit Bias; Chapter 9: Workplace Bias; Chapter 10: Recommendations.

Commentary in the blogosphere:

Google’s race and gender makeup is Trade Secret in tech business, says Google

Google, Don’t Be Hypocritical (NBC Bay Area, emphasis mine):

Despite its supposed mission to “organize the world’s information,” Google has fought to hide data about the race and gender makeup of its workforce.

The San Jose Mercury News reported that it had fought for 18 months through Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain data collected by the Department of Labor about the employees of Google and 14 other large Silicon Valley employers.

The question of diversity cuts to the core of Silicon Valley’s values. Investors, entrepreneurs, and managers love to tout the technology industry’s so-called meritocracy, in which talented workers rise quickly to the top. And yet the reality is that the technology industry remains dominated by white males, especially in management.

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White, male startup companies get funding for being white and male.

When top technology venture capitalist John Doerr decides which startup company to invest in, he consciously and deliberately chooses white males over women and racial minorities:

“That correlates more with any other success factor that I’ve seen in the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. If you look at Bezos, or [Netscape Communications Corp. founder Marc] Andreessen, [Yahoo Inc. co-founder] David Filo, the founders of Google, they all seem to be white, male, nerds who’ve dropped out of Harvard or Stanford and they absolutely have no social life. So when I see that pattern coming in — which was true of Google — it was very easy to decide to invest.”

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