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Reface the Space to Keep Women in Tech

woman selecting veneers

Problem

Stereotypically "geeky" spaces discourage women from pursuing science, technology, engineering, and math.

Solution

A few changes in room decorations can help women feel like they belong in STEM.

The Details

Social psychologist Sapna Cheryan and colleagues randomly assigned 39 college students to complete a career interest survey in one of two conditions. Participants in the geek lab condition took the survey in a room decorated with items associated with the masculine computer scientist stereotype. These items included a Star Trek poster, video game boxes, soda cans, and junk food. In the neutral lab condition, participants took the same survey in a room decorated with a nature poster, general interest books, water bottles, and healthy snacks.

Results showed that women in the geek lab condition expressed less interest in majoring in computer science than did women in the neutral lab condition. Meanwhile, men in both conditions showed the same levels of interest in computer science, regardless of the lab's decor.

Why This Works

People go where they feel welcome. The masculine, "geeky" decorations signaled that only men are welcome and can succeed in computer science, which made women less interested in the field. But the gender-neutral decorations helped women feel that they could belong in computer science.

When This Works Best

Changing decor has the biggest effects on people who are not already strongly committed to a field.

Try It Yourself

SPARQTools: Space Reface

Original Study

Cheryan, S., Plaut, V. C., Davies, P. G., & Steele, C. M. (2009). Ambient belonging: How stereotypical cues impact gender participation in computer science. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97(6), 1045-1060.

In the Media

The New York Times: What Really Keeps Women Out of Tech

Popular Science: Nerd Stereotype Might Drive Women Away From Computer Science

Geek Wire: Study: Here’s how to beat the stereotypes that keep women out of computer science

The Washington Post: Researchers explain how stereotypes keep girls out of computer science classes

Credits

Image via Naphat_Jorjee/Shutterstock.com