Stereotype threat and implicit attitudes: Implications for the leaky pipeline of women in science

Karen E Stamm, University of Rhode Island


Historically, women have been under-represented in science disciplines. This phenomenon has been described as a "leaky pipeline" where fewer women advance to higher levels of the pipeline. A possible mechanism behind the leaky pipeline is stereotype threat, the fear of being negatively evaluated because of one's group membership. Stereotype threat can undermine the performance of the members of any disadvantaged group. For example, women may not perform well on science tasks because of the stereotype that "women can't do science." This project examined whether stereotype threat negatively influences performance on an Implicit Association Test (IAT), a test that measures unconscious attitudes. The sample included 311 male and female students and faculty. In order to activate stereotype threat, participants in the experimental condition were asked to indicate their gender and were given instructions that the test is intended to measure scientific thinking. A series of two-way ANOVAs included gender, discipline (science, social science, non-science), or student-faculty status (undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty) as the first independent variable; experimental condition was the second independent variable. Performance on the IAT was the dependent variable, where high scores represented greater implicit endorsement of traditional gender-science stereotypes. Results indicated no differences by gender. The discipline analyses revealed an interaction between discipline and experimental condition. Individuals in the no-stereotype-threat condition (control) from science disciplines showed greater endorsement of traditional gender stereotypes, followed by individuals in social science disciplines, and individuals in non-science disciplines. There were no differences in the stereotype-threat condition. The student-faculty analyses found that there were differences between undergraduate students and all other participants. Graduate students and faculty in the no-stereotype-threat condition showed greater endorsement of traditional gender stereotypes than undergraduate students in the no-stereotype-threat condition, while there were no differences in the stereotype-threat condition. A structural equation model found that, for men, a latent construct measuring General Academics was a predictor of a latent construct measuring Science Identification, which in turn was a predictor of the performance on the IAT. The structural equation model did not fit as well for women. Implications for women in science and the leaky pipeline are discussed.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Karen E Stamm, "Stereotype threat and implicit attitudes: Implications for the leaky pipeline of women in science" (2009). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3401138.