Title

Science Self-Efficacy and Sexual Orientation in the Relationship Between Gender and Science Identity

Poster Number

1A

Lead Author Affiliation

Eberhardt School of Business

Lead Author Status

Faculty

Introduction

According to the US Census, in 2019 women comprised nearly half of the US workforce but only 27% of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs. Relatedly, despite improvements in the legislative and institutional background for LGBTQ people, such as the legalization of marriage for same-sex couples in numerous countries in the last twenty years, the workplace environment for LGBTQ scientists is still far from welcoming. Until a United States Supreme Court decision in 2020 (Bostock v. Clayton County), it was legal to discriminate against applicants and employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity in 25 states. Scant research exists showing that a similar gap in STEM job participation exists for gay men compared to heterosexual men. For example, Sansone & Carpenter (2020) found that men in same-sex couples are 12 percentage points less likely to have completed a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field compared to men in different-sex couples.

A recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine predicted a shortage of nearly 3.4 million STEM workers in the U.S. by 2022 (Souvaine, 2019). Drawing from a greater percentage of the talent pool of women and gay men could help fill this shortage. As such, finding ways for universities to facilitate women and LGBTQ individuals entering STEM degree programs may help alleviate this worker shortage.

Purpose

Research has identified numerous possible reasons for these gender differences, including gender stereotypes, a lack of teacher or parental support, a lack of hands-on experience, a lack of female science faculty role models, and lower levels of motivation or prior knowledge (e.g., Piatek-Jimenez et al., 2018). Some scholars have suggested that self-efficacy perceptions are the main driving factor in explaining whether a woman enters or remains in a STEM program or career (e.g,, Aurah, 2017; Zeldin & Pajares, 2000), such as science identity and science self-efficacy.

The purpose of the current study is to propose and empirically examine a model of the relationships between gender, sexual orientation, science self-efficacy, and science identity in a large sample of university students. Specifically, we propose that a key explanation for why gender differences in science identity exist may be that science self-efficacy is intervening in the relationship between gender and science identity. Science self-efficacy involves students’ confidence in their ability to conduct scientific research (Andrew, 1998; Gwilliam & Betz, 2001; Luzzo et al., 1999), whereas science identity concerns the extent to which students conceive of themselves as scientists (Brickhouse et al., 2000; Gee, 2000). Students’ identity and self-efficacy in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields are becoming a popular area of interest in education research (Williams & George-Jackson, 2014).

Whereas considerable research on science self-efficacy and science identity has begun to accumulate (e.g., Hazari et al., 2013; Kessels et al., 2014), very little research has empirically tested the relationship between the two variables. Our study bridges a gap in the existing literature by linking the science self-efficacy and science identity literatures. In particular, we expect that having positive science self-efficacy perceptions will act as a buffer in the relationship between gender and science identity. In addition, we examine the role of sexual orientation in this relationship. Research has found that sexual minorities are less likely to persist in STEM fields due to discrimination (Hughes, 2018), hostility (Cech & Waidzunas, 2011), a lack of inclusion (Haley, 2020), perceptions of a lack of belonging (Letts & Fifield, 2019; Stout & Wright, 2016) or not being able to present one’s authentic self (Mattheis et al., 2020). Specifically, we propose that, given the severity of these unique challenges that sexual minorities endure in STEM fields, science self-efficacy will not be sufficient to mitigate the effects of gender issues on science identity for this group.

Method

964 first-year students (51.8% women, 90% heterosexual, 30.4% white/Caucasian) at a small, private university in California completed a survey at the start of the school year. Means, standard deviations, reliability estimates, and zero-order correlations for the measured variables were reported. Hypotheses were tested using regression and mediational analyses.

Results

Significant gender differences were found in scores for science self-efficacy. More specifically, scores for science self-efficacy were found to be significantly different across all four gender and sexual orientation categories, F (2, 918) = 4.61, p < .01. Scores for science self-efficacy for heterosexual men (M = 1.94, SD = .81) and for non-heterosexual men (M= 2.00, SD = .89) were significantly higher than for heterosexual women (M = 1.69, SD = .74) and for non-heterosexual women (M = 1.75, SD = .84), t (837) = 67.03, p < .001 for heterosexuals, and t (84) = 19.98, p < .001 for non-heterosexuals. The scores for science self-efficacy for heterosexual men compared to non-heterosexual men, and for heterosexual women compared to non-heterosexual women were not significantly different, F (2, 444) = .79, ns., or higher in both cases.

Significant gender differences were found in scores for science identity. More specifically, scores for science identity were found to be significantly different across all four gender and sexual orientation categories, F (2, 917) = 10.53, p < .001. Scores for science identity for heterosexual men (M= 2.19, SD = .78) were significantly higher than scores for heterosexual women (M = 2.06, SD = .81), for non-heterosexual men (M = 1.86, SD = .80), and for non-heterosexual women (M = 1.77, SD = .83). Scores for science identity for non-heterosexual men were not significantly higher than scores for non-heterosexual women, F (2, 83) = .40, ns.

Most importantly, our study found that science self-efficacy mediated the relationship between gender and science identity for heterosexuals, but did not mediate this relationship for non-heterosexuals.

Significance

Our study found that women exhibited lower levels of science self-efficacy and science identity than men. This gender difference underscores the importance of including gender as an independent variable in science education research. Indeed, gender has generally been included as a control variable in multivariate educational studies (Romash, 2020).

Several implications may be drawn from our study’s findings. Given that science self-efficacy plays an instrumental role in science identities, educators should assess students’ levels of science self-efficacy while they are enrolled in science classes. When instances of low levels of science self-efficacy are identified, interventions can be started before it is too late. In a study of disadvantaged girls who participated in a precollege science program, Hong and Jun (2009) found that the girls’ teachers played a key role in cultivating their science self-efficacy perceptions. Aurah (2017) recommended strategies such as vicarious learning and goal setting to boost students’ science self-efficacy levels. Zeldin and Pajares (2000) found that the need for verbal encouragement and persuasion appear especially critical for women in the formation of their self-concepts regarding science. In addition, science self-efficacy interventions should not be limited to the classroom. As some scholars have pointed out, adolescents spend only 20% of their lives in the classroom by the age of 18 (Collins & Roberson, 2020); thus, extracurricular science programs and mentors outside of school have the potential to affect science self-efficacy and, ultimately, STEM career decisions.

An additional contribution of our study is that it adds the role of sexual orientation to the research on the relationship between gender and science self-concept variables. As noted earlier, recent research has indicated that STEM fields have found it a challenge to retain sexual minorities (Langin, 2018; Letts & Fifield, 2019). We found that science self-efficacy did not mediate the influence of gender on science identity for sexual minorities. We believe that, given the severity of the unique challenges experienced by sexual minorities (e.g., prejudice on college campuses, hostile STEM environments, greater stigma, lack of social support, lack of sexual minority STEM role models, and a tendency for young adults to conceal their sexual orientation), having a strong science self-efficacy was not enough to make a significant impact on the gender, sexual orientation, and science identity relationship for non-heterosexuals.

Scholars have argued that support from teachers is a key factor in retaining sexual minority STEM students (Hughes, 2018; Letts & Fifield, 2019). Support from faculty or significant others may serve as a buffer from the effects of minority stressors such as prejudice and isolation on science identity. Thus, it may be that support is more important than science self-efficacy for the science identity of sexual minorities. Indeed, previous research has shown that, in the presence of strong support mechanisms, gender differences in science self-efficacy disappear (Jordan & Carden, 2017; Kiran & Sungur, 2012). Future research should address this whether support is more critical to the science identity of sexual minorities than science self-efficacy. Related research on underrepresented minority students pursuing STEM careers has found that teacher and parent support was a critical factor related to students’ interest and enrolment in STEM programmes (Sahin et al., 2020). STEM teachers can evaluate the predominantly masculine language and normative gender-binary assumptions that persist in STEM classes, as they may contribute to sexual minorities’ perceptions of an unwelcome environment (Knaier, 2019). Recent research has found that redesigning science curricula to include gender-neutral activities results in positive learning outcomes for all students (Guzey & Jung, 2021). Teachers’ discussions of what is ‘normal’ may lessen the tendency for some gender-conforming students to shun sexual minorities who are perceived as ‘improper’ members of the scientific community (Götschel, 2019).

Location

William Knox Holt Memorial Library and Learning Center, University of the Pacific, 3601 Pacific Ave., Stockton, CA 95211

Format

Poster Presentation

Poster Session

Morning

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Apr 30th, 10:00 AM Apr 30th, 12:00 PM

Science Self-Efficacy and Sexual Orientation in the Relationship Between Gender and Science Identity

William Knox Holt Memorial Library and Learning Center, University of the Pacific, 3601 Pacific Ave., Stockton, CA 95211

According to the US Census, in 2019 women comprised nearly half of the US workforce but only 27% of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs. Relatedly, despite improvements in the legislative and institutional background for LGBTQ people, such as the legalization of marriage for same-sex couples in numerous countries in the last twenty years, the workplace environment for LGBTQ scientists is still far from welcoming. Until a United States Supreme Court decision in 2020 (Bostock v. Clayton County), it was legal to discriminate against applicants and employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity in 25 states. Scant research exists showing that a similar gap in STEM job participation exists for gay men compared to heterosexual men. For example, Sansone & Carpenter (2020) found that men in same-sex couples are 12 percentage points less likely to have completed a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field compared to men in different-sex couples.

A recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine predicted a shortage of nearly 3.4 million STEM workers in the U.S. by 2022 (Souvaine, 2019). Drawing from a greater percentage of the talent pool of women and gay men could help fill this shortage. As such, finding ways for universities to facilitate women and LGBTQ individuals entering STEM degree programs may help alleviate this worker shortage.