HumBio, IR encounter reverse gender gap

Feb. 21, 2013, 11:58 p.m.

While the gender gap in computer science majors both nationally and at Stanford has been widely publicized, similar issues continue to affect Stanford’s human biology (HumBio) and international relations (IR) programs. For those two departments, however, it’s all about the women.

Seventy-nine percent of declared HumBio majors are female, while women constitute 66 percent of declared IR majors.

“I hadn’t heard much about the gender gap, but when I got there I was pretty shocked that there were girls everywhere,” said Andre Decker ’13, a HumBio major.

While the shortage of women in typically male-dominated majors has been the subject of extensive research, significantly less attention has been paid to cases where the reverse gender gap is true.

Shelley Correll M.A. ’96 Ph.D. ’01, director of the Stanford Clayman Institute for Gender Research, posited a few different hypotheses, including the tendency of a gender imbalance to become self-perpetuating over time.

“When groups are already underrepresented, then new members are less likely to go into the major,” Correll said.

Correll added that research has demonstrated a difference in preferences between men and women that might ultimately lead to different choices of major.

“We do find that women place a slightly higher value on jobs that they see as helping other people,” she said.

Nora Jendoubi ’14, an IR major, said she chose the program because she developed a passion for international policies after growing up in a multicultural environment.

Meanwhile Rachel Seeman ’14, a HumBio major, was drawn to the interdisciplinary nature of the program and the lack of a math requirement.

Michael Tomz, director of the IR program, hesitated to attribute the overall gender imbalance to any specific factor.

“These are deep and profound questions, why certain genders are attracted to certain majors and not as much to others,” Tomz said.

Paul Fisher ’84, director of the HumBio department, also expressed puzzlement over the gender disparity.

“We typically attract students who have broad interests, typically incorporating natural and social sciences,” Fisher said. “For some reason, females seem to be more drawn to it than males.”

While neither Fisher nor Tomz could pinpoint the cause for the underrepresentation of male students in their programs, Correll said the gender gap could be problematic in a variety of ways.

“For any important social problem, it’s in the interest of the society to be really drawing from the full range of talent within our society,” Correll said. “Having more men, we’d bring in a different perspective than in the absence of men.”

David Hoyt ’13, an IR major, said that while the gender gap has never adversely affected his classes in the International Security track– a track that is either male-dominated or reaches gender parity– he recognizes the gender disparity’s social impact.

“I think that it’s important to have both genders weigh in on the discussion,” Hoyt said.

Aside from inclusivity concerns, Correll added that reaching gender parity among both female-dominated and male-dominated majors would resolve ongoing social issues related to stereotyping.

“To the extent that things are more equalized across gender lines, you reduce some of the kinds of stereotype threats that come about when people are underrepresented,” Correll said.

For Fisher, the main concern is not necessarily gender parity.

“I think the biggest concern for me as director is to have the biggest diversity of students,” Fisher said. “We attract people from all over campus– athletes, non-athletes… I think the overriding concern is that we really reach out to the whole campus.”

Some female students, like HumBio major Alison Kadavy ’15, said that the gender disparity has no effect, while others welcomed it.

“It’s easier to be in an environment with all girls. I find myself participating more,” said Raquel Ryan ’15, a HumBio major.

Correll said that one of the few efforts to correct the HumBio and IR gender gap is organized by the Haas Center for Public Service, which has tried to bring in more male students to balance out the high number of females.

She attributed the lack of interest in boosting male recruitment in HumBio and IR, as opposed to efforts to increase female participation in computer science, to types of jobs that the majors often lead to.

“One of the reasons we care about the shortage of women in fields of computer science is because computer science jobs pay very well and they’re very high status, so if we got more women into computer science, that would help reduce the gender gap in our society from a fairness and equity standpoint,” Correll said, asserting that no such impetus existed for IR or HumBio.

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