Societal Issues Theory and Evidence

Review Recommendations, Strategies, Effective Practices, and Resources

What the Literature Says*

Media Theory

(Positive) National media portrayal of individuals performing the job duties of a nontraditional career in a positive light increases participation of the nontraditional gender in that career.

(Negative) The constant and often gender-stereotypical exposure of electronic media solidifies gender stereotyping.

Media Evidence

Stereotyped and constant: Not only are students bombarded with electronic media that “contain gender biases of many kinds” but also there are no assessments to determine whether students are made aware of gender biases in the few formal opportunities that are provided for students to learn media literacy. A survey of over 700 young women and 400 young men ages13-21 revealed that young women believe that the media put out many negative and overly sexual images of women. They also believe that the media have a responsibility to portray positive images and messages, but believe they have little influence to change the media.

Powerful influence for change: One study found that forensic science was the seventh and ninth most popular job among girls and boys, respectively. Forensic science has been the subject of several TV series. Historically, the media have portrayed technology as a male domain. However, emerging technologies supporting of personal interaction creates more interest for girls’ natural interests; the fact that girls use technology for those social interaction gives them more technological experience.

Peer Theory

The opinions of peers, especially during adolescence, can influence nontraditional career choices, especially for females.

Peer Evidence

Peers: “Peers are both the product as well as the contributing producers of gender differentiation.”

Concern about “looking dumb”: In a 1990 study of elementary students, “children were more reluctant to seek help from peers, compared with adults (including teachers), because they were afraid to ‘look dumb’ in the eyes of their classmates. Girls were more concerned about public appearances than boys, especially in mathematics classes, compared with reading classes….The more the children thought help seeking would benefit them, the more likely they were to ask.”

Support for nontraditional choices: Respondents to a survey of 1000 female IT professionals stated that “support and encouragement from friends” was one of the most common IT-related experiences. Friends may have influenced them by encouraging, supporting, or sharing an interest in IT together. Parents, teachers, and peers were among the most important factors for youths’ IT careers.

Men choosing nontraditional careers may pay less attention to peers: Men who choose nontraditional occupations may be “reference group independent,” allowing themselves greater role flexibility and opting for career satisfaction. In Lease’s study men “with more ideologically liberal social attitudes were more likely to choose occupations that had higher percentages of women working in them.” These attitudes include gender roles and may indicate that these men are independent of their reference group.

Support groups: When nontraditional participants enroll individually, they are less likely to integrate effectively into the social structure, more likely to suffer decreased performance, and more likely to drop out. Change is carried in cohorts, not in single individuals.

Role Model and Mentoring Theory

Support services, such as the provision of career-related role models and mentors, aids participation and completion of education leading to nontraditional careers.

Role Model and Mentoring Evidence

Role models: Respondents to a survey of 1000 female IT professionals named engaging staff as one of four factors contributing to their entrance and persistence in an IT career. A study of more than 350 female undergraduates revealed that the influence of role models accounted for a significant variance in career choices, slightly more than for self-efficacy. The study cites work that ties the influence of role models to career aspirations, career choice, and attitude toward nontraditional careers.

Influential mentors: Mentoring benefits the mentee, the mentor, and the organization and has been shown to prevent women from leaving engineering programs. Women who have occupational achievement in their profession that is equal to that of their male peers attribute their achievement to having mentors in that profession.

Are female teachers really scientists?: While role models were found to be helpful, one study of female science teachers discovered that the fact that females were teaching science did not mean that those women were seen as scientists. The relationship between high school science teaching and scientific work was not explicit.

Mentor training is valuable: Another study pointed out the importance of relationships in the mentoring process: both the 8th-grade girls who were mentees and their science mentors benefited from identifying the cognitive process used in contemplating science mentoring.

Collaboration Theory

Collaboration between educational entities and community-based organizations or businesses impacts the pipeline for nontraditional careers.

Collaboration Evidence

Tipping point: “Early data suggest that collaboration such as that practiced by the National Girls Collaborative Project has the possibility to become vehicles for sustainable outcomes by affecting the tipping point.”

*Please note that author/date callouts to references and full references can be found in the Print Form of the Root Causes document. You will be asked to complete a brief survey about your intended use of the document. The PDF will download after the survey is submitted. Thank you for your assistance!