Perceptions of Underrepresentation Among Students in STEM Fields: An Empirical Analysis


  • Danielle Saj
  • Annemieke Farenhorst
  • Tracey Peter



Gender bias in science has been thoroughly researched and it is well known that women are underrepresented within post-secondary Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (herein stem) programs. Limiting women’s participation in science carries heavy consequences for both the economy and scientific community. Therefore, gender inequality must be addressed with urgency. This research is focused on the following research questions: 1) are there gender differences in how students perceive the underrepresentation of women in stem; 2) are there gender differences in student support for initiatives that could enhance gender equity in stem? Not surprisingly, the results suggest that women consider proportionate gender representation to be more important than men (61.9% vs. 39.6%; χ 2 [2, 158]=7.05, p=0.029, Cramer’s V=0.211). Further, when considering their own experiences, 20% of female respondents reported feeling underrepresented at university. These perceptions were more common among women studying stem subjects than other subjects (33% vs. 14%; χ 2 (1, 339)=16.9, p<0.001, Cramer’s V=0.22). Women expressed a greater level of support than men for many programs that would address this issue and a greater level of interest in participating in them. This interest was heightened among women who felt underrepresented. This suggests that women desire opportunities to connect with like peers through outreach and mentorship programs. These solutions require increased levels of resources, as well as the cooperation of those who do not identify as underrepresented individuals. Post-secondary institutions should consider this as they develop new ways of addressing this issue.