My classmate and fellow engineer (or so it seems!) “Prof T” wrote a great entry about gender related stereotypes in STEM fields at her blog here. Besides that horrible spider she keeps as her banner, I loved the post! She spoke well on having female role models for female students in STEM classrooms and slowly making the transition to a diverse set of allies instead of just women. I’d like to expand on that a little bit more.
For my PFP topic I wrote on increasing the quantity of women in STEM fields and while I had the same thought as Brandi initially I found a few studies that seemed to indicate just the opposite, oddly enough.Using some work from Shapiro (J. R. Shapiro and A. M. Williams, “The Role of Stereotype Threats in Undermining Girls’ and Womens’ Performance and Interest in STEM Fields,” Sex Roles, pp. 175-183, 2012.) I’d like to introduce the concept of a multi-threat framework.
The Multi-Threat Framework (MTF) is a system where stereotypes are broken down into six distinct categories using two different factors: the source of the stereotype as well as the target. It leads to the stereotype threat conclusions that we’re already familiar with but casts a more critical eye on the actual source of the threat. Some common ones (and easy to illustrate) are
- self as source: the common one we know of – and to hark on a favorite stereotype – a girl just KNOWS she’s bad at math.
- in group as source: a girl getting a bad grade on a math test feels worse about it if her teacher is female, as she’s let down somebody in the same minority
- others as source: this girl is afraid that she’ll hold up the general image of women being bad at math; she’s letting her minority down.
It’s this “in group as source” stereotype threat that makes assuming a role model of the same minority stance a dangerous assumption. A young woman who takes and fails an exam with a female professor is considerably more likely to feel discouraged than a female taking an exam with a male instructor. It all boils down to disappointment. Somebody who should very well be your friend but, in actuality, is an enemy…
Frenemy: Someone who is both friend and enemy, a relationship that is both mutually beneficial or dependent while being competitive, fraught with risk and mistrust.
These threats that not only emerge within but act upon the same group are deadly. If one cannot trust and confide in their own minority, who can they talk to?! Perhaps, as Brandi rightly points out, they should rely on allies. People who may share similar experiences yet not the identical one. Relatable yet not similar enough to be able to pass judgement not receive it. This requires openness and an acceptance of vulnerability for everybody involved – just enough to make a relationship seem inclusive but not so much as to become a therapist. Positive role modeling without asking the mentee to literally become the mentor.
I say much of this with a grain of salt. I’m a white male in a field dominated by white males. I grew up in a privileged community where our school system buys SMART Boards for our kindergarteners. There’s not been a whole lot of adversity in my life, honestly, so I fear I’d be a pretty poor mentor for those people who might need it most. It’s why I’m here in class, honestly. For those of use without experience or knowledge of a minority lifestyle we must learn empathy where full understanding is impossible.