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Women are vastly underrepresented in the fields of computer science and engineering (CS&E). We examined whether women might view the intellectual characteristics of prototypical individuals in CS&E in more stereotype-consistent ways than men might and, consequently, show less interest in CS&E. We asked 269 U.S. college students (187, 69.5% women) to describe the prototypical computer scientist (Study 1) or engineer (Study 2) through open-ended descriptions as well as through a set of trait ratings. Participants also rated themselves on the same set of traits and rated their similarity to the prototype. Finally, participants in both studies were asked to describe their likelihood of pursuing future college courses and careers in computer science (Study 1) or engineering (Study 2). Across both studies, we found that women offered more stereotype-consistent ratings than did men of the intellectual characteristics of prototypes in CS (Study 1) and engineering (Study 2). Women also perceived themselves as less similar to the prototype than men did. Further, the observed gender differences in prototype perceptions mediated the tendency for women to report lower interest in CS&E fields relative to men. Our work highlights the importance of prototype perceptions for understanding the gender gap in CS&E and suggests avenues for interventions that may increase women’s representation in these vital fields.



Ehrlinger, J., Plant, E., Hartwig, M.K. et al. Sex Roles (2018) 78: 40.

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