QUB study reveals how to improve gender equality attitudes in STEM

  • A study by Queen’s University Belfast looking at how to reduce negative attitudes towards gender initiatives in STEM has found that they receive better support when their impact is effectively communicated.

    The research shows that ensuring the initiatives are not seen as merely 'box-ticking' exercises is key to improving engagement. This is done by promoting initiatives in terms of the intrinsic value of the work and benefits for individuals when asking academics to take part.

    The lead author Dr Lynn Farrell suggests that by using effective framing, more men can be engaged in gender equality initiatives to ensure that these initiatives are not considered ‘women’s work’ and only the responsibility of female academics.

    The recent paper, which has recently been published in international scientific journal BioScience, highlighted two experiments carried out with UK-based STEM academics examining how gender equality initiatives can be best framed to improve attitudes toward them.

    The first study found that men were more supportive of initiatives framed as benefitting both men and women because of fewer concerns of unfair treatment and more internal motivation to engage with the initiative.

    Both women and men had fewer concerns of anti-women discrimination when the initiative was framed as led by a woman.

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    In the second study researchers framed the gender equality initiative as either supported by university management or not, and either internally motivated, where the value of diversity was communicated or externally motivated, where it was deemed compulsory, and found that support was greater for internally motivated initiatives.

    They also found that the impact of management support depended on academics’ previous experience with gender equality initiatives – those with little to no experience showed more support when the initiatives were supported by senior management, while this support did not significantly influence participants with more experience with gender equality initiatives.

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    Dr Farrell, a research fellow in the School of Psychology, explained: “A number of high-profile gender equality initiatives are intended to address women's underrepresentation in science.

    “However, attitudes toward such initiatives can be negative, with men tending to be less supportive of diversity policies in general, so we wanted to carry the experiments out with STEM academics to examine how gender equality initiatives can be best framed to improve attitudes toward them.

    “Our research shows that the focus, leadership and engagement motivation of these initiatives are particularly important factors to consider when framing a gender equality initiative for STEM academics.

    “For example, pressurised framing of gender equality initiatives should be reduced, instead promoting the intrinsic value of diversity for workplaces, scientific endeavours, and individuals themselves.

    “Also, a more inclusive framing for gender equality initiatives will likely engage more men so that these initiatives are not left solely as ‘women’s work’ to be shouldered by female academics.”

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    This research has implications for how gender equality initiatives should be designed and communicated within academic institutions and suggests some practical measures which can be taken.

    Dr Farrell added: “These results suggest we can improve STEM academics’ support for gender equality initiatives depending on how these initiatives are communicated.

    “However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach and information about the initiatives should be nuanced and framed differently depending on the targets.”

    The paper entitled 'When You Put It that Way: Framing Gender Equality Initiatives to Improve Engagement among STEM Academics' was written by an interdisciplinary team of academics from the Engineering and Physical Science faculty at Queen’s and is the first publication from the Queen’s ‘Inclusion Really Does Matter’ project led by Dr Ioana Latu. 

    The project was set up in 2019, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, to accelerate progress towards gender equality and was run in collaboration with the University of Glasgow, the University of Warwick and funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council under their Inclusion Matters call.

    For further updates about the project you can follow the research team on Twitter: @QUBIncMatters.

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    Source: Written from press release

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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