Allies or Advocates? Men for Women in STEM

Danielle Lewis

Danielle Lewis working on revisions of findings for this project.

Danielle Lewis working on revisions of findings for this project

Graduate Student Project

Introduction

More than half of the students graduating with a Bachelor's degree each year are women, but did you know that in engineering, they comprise only 20% of degree recipients? This is despite a heightened awareness of and resources devoted to increasing the number of women in subjects like engineering. Many of the programs that seek to increase the representation of women in STEM often exclude men who comprise the majority of leadership in these disciplines. I know this because for several years, I managed a support program for women in STEM majors at a university and men were not engaged or present. During my time in that role, I consistently wondered if excluding men was a missed opportunity to engage the majority group in STEM to help address the issue. So, I set out to explore how men who do advocate for women in STEM come to be advocates, and then, if they do self-identify as advocates, are they actually engaged in actively supporting women in their daily lives or do they simply espouse gender equity as a personal value, thereby serving in more of a passive ally role? This study explores all of these questions in an attempt to identify any replicable factors that could help to raise up a new generation of advocates by mobilizing a group that has adequate positional power to effect the culture and therefore, representation of women in STEM.

Abstract

The effort to increase the number of women in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines has garnered much attention, resulting in a significant allocation of resources to address the issue. Many of the proposed solutions exclude men, yet men fill the vast majority of leadership positions. This study examined and compared the experiences and perceptions of 20 undergraduates in STEM. The factors that contributed to men participants' identification as advocates for women in STEM were specifically explored. Advocates are defined in literature as taking on a more active role by participating in activities that contest the status quo; results of this study demonstrate that men who identify as advocates actually engage in efforts more as allies, supporting women passively. Additional findings reveal that men often carry unconscious gender bias and a sense of uncertainty regarding how best to influence discipline-level culture, which could hinder their advocacy efforts.

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