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This UW Daily article features Sapna Cheryan: UW researcher Sapna Cheryan breaks down the stereotype of male-dominated tech and how to change it for the better

STEMINISIM

UW researcher Sapna Cheryan breaks down the stereotype of male-dominated tech and how to change it for the better

Breaking up the boy’s club

When Sapna Cheryan, a UW professor of psychology, was a first-year graduate student at Stanford University, she decided to get a summer job. Living in the Bay Area, the logical choice was a tech job in Silicon Valley. 

She started interviewing at offices around Stanford and immediately began noticing a pattern.

“I remember going into companies and quickly deciding whether or not I’d want to work there,” Cheryan said. 

She would take a look at the lobby and the space around her and know right away whether or not she felt like she belonged there. 

“I remember I went to this interview, and I saw that the conference rooms were named after ‘Star Trek’ ships and that was a strong signal for me that ‘I don’t think I’m really going to fit in,’” Cheryan said.

It made her wonder if this feeling was true for more women than it was for men. 

She began to study the role of the physical environment in communicating stereotypes. She began to question if the way we set up the rooms and offices around us was reinforcing stereotypes about who belonged in which field.

Cheryan quickly realized that if the environment around was reinforcing normative ideas that excluded women, the environment could also reinforce inclusive ones.

She focused her research on the field of computer science, an industry that men have dominated for decades.

Despite making up almost half of the U.S. labor force, women make up less than a quarter of the tech industry. In a study done by the National Science Foundation, researchers found that in 2010 only 12.7% of engineers in the country were women, down slightly from two years prior. 

Furthermore, according to a recent report from the National Science Board, the amount of women in engineering programs each year is around 22%.

Cheryan set out to study how much of a role the shaping of physical environments in STEM played in the gender disparity.

Read the entire article here.