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Filling the Gap: The Effects of the “Confidence Gap” in STEM and 3 Ways to Fix It

The idea that gender inequalities plague various industries is not new. Despite increased publicity and prioritization of diversity efforts, issues still surround the gaps between men and women in the workplace.
Filling the Gap: The Effects of the “Confidence Gap” in STEM and 3 Ways to Fix It - Confidence Gap

Some prime examples of fields struggling to close this gap are STEM fields. It’s no secret that STEM is currently male-dominated. A recent paper has detailed the “confidence gap” present in some STEM fields — an issue which may contribute to the pay gap that hampers women’s progress in STEM and perpetuate the inequalities women face in the workplace.

Here’s how the confidence gap can lead to gender pay inequalities and some solutions companies can use to combat its negative effects within the workplace.

What Is the Confidence Gap in STEM?

The confidence gap is the idea that women tend to be less self-assured in their STEM abilities than their male counterparts. This concept was brought into the spotlight by Adina Sterling, professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

The study asked recent college graduates with engineering degrees to rank their performance and levels of self-efficacy when completing tasks, such as prototyping.

Her study found that female graduates have lower levels of self-efficacy on average compared to males. Additionally, women who enter the workforce and have lower salaries than men tend to have less confidence when carrying out their technical tasks.

The study also highlighted that these differences are strong predictors of salary gaps in STEM. In other words, if a woman ranks herself low in self-efficacy, she is likely to make less in an entry-level position. This is mainly because self-efficacy plays a significant role in the job application process. Employers are looking for candidates who are confident in their ability to perform tasks. If a woman lacks the assertiveness needed to earn a job in her desired field, a potential employer may feel less inclined to hire her.

It was also found that, on average, women who graduated with engineering degrees earn less than $61,000 in entry roles, whereas men earn $65,000 or more. It’s clear there’s a pay gap between genders in STEM, and the confidence gap could be contributing to the inequality women are experiencing.

It’s important to note that this concept was found in other new research concerning the general workforce. In this study of over 4,000 participants and 10,000 school-aged youth, women describe their ability and performance in a job less favorably compared to equally performing men. There is a gender gap in self-promotion, which is hampering women’s progress in the general workforce.

Not all gender differences are inherently negative. For example, marketing professionals will segment their customers based on their gender to target the most appropriate audience for their product or service. However, these gaps have some detrimental implications in the workplace. It’s crucial to find ways to combat the confidence gap to ensure people of all genders are encouraged to pursue STEM-related careers.

Combating the Confidence Gap in STEM

How can we fill this gap in STEM-related fields? What steps need to be taken to close this shortfall and provide women with more opportunities and confidence as they enter STEM jobs?

Here are three possible ways to combat the confidence gap in STEM.

1. Increase Media Representation of Women in STEM

For women to become interested and confident in STEM, they need to see viable role models that look, think and perform like them. Young girls must see well-educated women performing successfully in STEM to help solidify their beliefs that it’s more than possible to succeed in these fields.

In a study conducted by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, nearly four in five girls surveyed believe it’s important to see women STEM characters in TV and film. More effort must be made to put female STEM characters on-screen.

2. Generating Excitement for STEM in Early Education

Children entering the academic space must have equal access to STEM resources, such as online classes, books and activities. This will help generate excitement in young girls so they feel they can pursue STEM. The ultimate goal is to eliminate societal beliefs that these roles are best filled by men, as that is not the case.

Tech giant Microsoft has created an action guide to help close gender gaps in STEM, and generating excitement is crucial. Frequently speaking on the gender gap and why it must be filled is important for any educator, especially in high school, where interest in STEM tends to fall by the wayside in girls’ minds.

3. Encourage a Growth Mindset in Young Female Students

If you’re not aware of the growth mindset, it’s the idea that skills can be developed through hard work, input from others and good strategies. This is opposed to a fixed mindset, which is the idea that individuals have innate abilities or gifts and they cannot be changed. Girls need to have growth mindsets regardless of what subjects they’re interested in, especially in STEM.

Because of the existing gender gaps in STEM, encourage young girls to adopt a growth mindset through coaching and mentorship.

Closing the Gender Gaps in STEM

Because there is clear evidence showing the gender disparities in STEM, leaders must work toward an equal workplace. Additionally, employers need to shift their focus from self-efficacy to how qualified and experienced a candidate is during their hiring process. It will likely take some time to see these shifts in the industry, but the ultimate goal is to eliminate the existing confidence gap.


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