Topic 11: Covert Conditioning of Girls/Women Away from Male Dominated Fields


Historically, women and underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) technical careers. The problems usually begin within the educational system. Without the proper educational foundation, it is extremely difficult for girls to pursue higher education that will provide them the skills necessary to succeed as women in the workplace. Without women in technical positions both in school and the workplace, it is difficult for women to overcome barriers to entry in STEM careers.

Scenario 1: Covert Conditioning through Advising

Marsha is excited about the opportunity to major in engineering. She has dreamed of being an aerospace engineer since childhood. Her first day on campus, she meets with the advisor of the pre-engineering program, Cheryl. Cheryl politely tells her that there has never been a woman to graduate from the aerospace engineering program in the history of the institution, and she would advise her to go to the career center and talk to a career development specialist about what aerospace engineering is and what the men in that field do every day on the job. She further tells Marsha that women have struggled in that field because of all the time it takes to complete the work and she will not be able to go shopping or hang out with her girlfriends. She also tells Marsha that there is no female bathroom inside the lab, she will have to go outside of the lab into another area of the building to access the women’s facilities.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some of the covert conditioning comments that Cheryl said to Marsha?
  2. How can Marsha overcome those comments and achieve her goal?
  3. What would you have done differently than Cheryl?

Scenario 2:

Maria is excited to have graduated with her doctoral degree in Chemistry. She wants to remain on the technical side of the business and progress through the technical management ranks. However, as the only Hispanic female, she is always given the least visible technical projects to work on and is provide very little mentoring to improve her visibility to executive leadership. Maria has been asked to move to the leadership side of the business where she has very little leadership knowledge. She would need to go back to school and/or spend a lot of time in leadership development programs before she could even begin to make progress. There is no guarantee that she could ever return to the technical side of the business.

Discussion Questions

  1. What should Maria do to improve her visibility within the organization?
  2. How can organizations better develop minority women into technical leadership positions?

Supplemental Readings

Bierema, L. L. (2009). Critiquing human resource development’s dominant masculine rationality and evaluating its impact. Human Resource Development Review, 8, 68-96.

Glick, P. (1991). Trait-based and sex-based discrimination in occupational prestige, occupational salary, and hiring. Sex Roles, 25, 351-378.

Miller, G.E. (2002). The frontier, entrepreneurialism, and engineers: Women coping with a web of masculinities in an organizational culture. Culture and Organization, 8, 145-160.