U.Va. launches program promoting women STEM faculty
University researchers discover people implicitly associate scientific fields with men
The University rolled out a new program Thursday to promote female faculty in the STEM and social, behavioral and economic sciences fields. The program, called ADVANCE, is part of a National Science Foundation initiative which offers grants for universities to examine potential barriers to female advancement in STEM and SBE faculty positions and attempts to foster institutional transformation.
Pam Norris, associate dean for research and graduate programs in the Engineering School, along with Asst. Public Policy Prof. Sophie Trawalter and Joanne Cohoon, associate professor of engineering and society, won the $3 million grant last October, joining 39 other schools since the program’s inception.
ADVANCE aims to both increase female student enrollment and attract more female faculty in STEM and SBE departments. “A third of the faculty at U.Va. are women, and only about 13 percent are in STEM and SBE,” Norris said.
Research Asst. Psychology Prof. Fred Smyth spoke at the launch about his research on the implicit association test and its impact on women faculty members. His research found 70 percent of participants showed it was easier to conceptualize men in science fields and women in humanities fields. “We’d likely see a difference between their explicit beliefs and the implicit beliefs of the study,” Smyth said. “[However,] implicit bias is consequential for STEM … No one is immune, even us who know about it.”
But by actively promoting gender equality and enlightening people towards these implicit biases in favor of men, the researchers hope to increase the number of women faculty in STEM and SBE fields. Smyth said subsequent research conducted in 2009 and again in 2012 showed that these biases were decreasing. “[The data] shows that biases from STEM are not set in stone,” he said.