Women are still largely underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). This issue has prompted fervent discussions among policymakers and researchers on how to encourage women to pursue careers in STEM. A variety of initiatives providing mentorship by female scientists have been put in place with the goal of promoting women’s persistence in these fields, but there is still no clear evidence on the role of advisor gender in reducing the STEM gender gap. Serena Canaan and Pierre Mouganie investigate whether the gender of an academic advisor affects students’ choice of major.
To answer this question, Canaan and Mouganie make use of the fact that first-year students at the American University of Beirut are randomly assigned to faculty advisors who help them select a major. Random assignment ensures that the study isolates the effects of student–advisor gender match and that no other unobservable aspects of this match are driving results.
They find that being matched to a female rather than male science advisor reduces the gender gap in STEM enrollment and graduation by 8.3 and 7.9 percentage points, respectively.
These documented effects are entirely driven by high-ability female students—the group of students most likely to benefit from entering the STEM pipeline. The authors further show that the gender of an advisor from a non-science department has no impact on students’ major choice.
So is this actionable evidence? “Our findings indicate that providing close mentoring or advising by female scientists can play an important role in promoting women’s participation and persistence in STEM fields.”
Read the study in the Journal of Human Resources: “The Impact of Advisor Gender on Female Students’ STEM Enrollment and Persistence,” by Serena Canaan and Pierre Mouganie.