“Stereotypes matter”, says Columbia Professor on Gender Inequalities Master Class

The Master Class “reducing gender inequalities in scientific careers: lessons from comparative studies”, held on July 4th at Institute of Philosophy and Social Sciences of Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (IFCS), brought Professor Thomas DiPrete, from Columbia Department of Sociology, to present the results of his research on the gap between the presence of men and women in STEM (higher degree courses related to  science, technology, engineering and math). Participating on the debate as a mediator was Professor Elisa Reis, and, as a comentator, Professor Celi Scalon, both from IFCS.


Organized by Columbia Global Centers | Rio de Janeiro, in partnership with Department of Sociology at Columbia University and Interdisciplinary Center for Inequality Studies, from Federal University of Rio, the class brought a variety of themes related to gender inequalities that are being nowadays discussed not only in the US – the geographic scope for his study – but all over, as well as in the Brazilian society. DiPrete, in his presentation, intended to show the audience why and how the gap between man and women in scientific careers, such as mechanic engineering, computer sciences, and so forth, is still considerably large.



According to the research, even though women’s share of masters, doctors and professors degree have largely increased since the 60’s, there is still a gap when it comes to BA degrees like engineering and construction, for example. The explanation for that phenomenon, DiPrete argued, finds its origins in the early school life. Since very young, girls and boys’ minds are shaped by conventions associated to gender roles, interests and habilities. Men choose engineering, he says, because they are told they are good in maths. Women, on the other hand, are told engineering is not a “women’s course”, so, even in the STEM Field, they pick a course with a more humanistic approach.


Following that same perspective, DiPrete says that, in many elementary and high schools, extra-curricular courses reinforce the gender stereotypes among youngsters, which is decisive for their career choice. Furthermore, the socially constructed expectations on gender make boys usually go for courses in which the financial return is most likely guaranteed, such as electrical and mechanic engineering. Because of this mindset, courses with better reputation in the labor market are predominantly male and the most competitive ones.  As one of his work conclusions, DiPrete reiterated: “stereotypes do matter. The generalization of gender behaviors and interests are also responsible for this gap.”


Celi Scalon, after DiPrete presentation, stressed how gender inequalities, in the academy or other spheres, is such a hot debate today in Brazil. Reflecting on how women and man stand towards the labor market, she wondered: “are those careers – the more humanistic STEM courses -  less prestigious because women choose them or women go for them because they are less prestigious, less competitive?”. Elisa Reis, on the same flow, questioned if there is such thing we can call “man’s science” – “why do we still genderize the science”, she asked. About DiPrete’s result on the extra-curricular classes in school, she emphasized the need of fighting the gender gap in those activities.


“Are the more humanistic STEM careers less prestigious because women choose them or women go for them because they are less prestigious, less competitive?”

Celi Scalon