There is a significant under-representation of women in STEM which is damaging societal progress for democratic, utilitarian, and equity reasons. However, changing stereotypes in STEM requires a solution denied by the problem – more visible female role models. We therefore argue that science communication has a vital role to play in socially engineering representations of scientists and engineers, in order to change perceptions and stereotypes in STEM.
In this paper we describe outcomes from the ‘Women Like Me’ project, which aimed to apply lessons from the social psychology literature to support women in engineering. Our previous research indicates how important peer group and mentoring support is for women, providing vicarious experience and changing social norms.
In total, 52 professional female engineers working in industry or research in the West of England region were trained in public engagement and outreach (‘junior’ engineers with ≤5 years’ experience, N=26) and mentoring (‘senior’ engineers with 5-32 years’ experience, N=26). Junior engineers were to carry out a target of three education outreach activities each, with senior engineers providing at least two mentoring sessions to the junior engineer with whom they were paired through the scheme.
By enhancing the capacity and self-efficacy for mid-career female scientists and engineers to mentor others, it is hoped they will generate a more supportive workplace for junior female staff. Providing training for women scientists and engineers in mentoring and education outreach, along with supported opportunities for public engagement, significantly improved the self-efficacy of junior engineers to undertake more public engagement. These social connections will in turn boost the science capital of girls and other minorities in STEM, and enhance their ability to continue in these rewarding careers.
Fogg Rogers, L., & Hobbs, L. (2021, May). Catch 22 - improving visibility of women in science and engineering for both recruitment and retention. Presented at PCST 2020+1, Online