Women are as successful but are less confident than men, report finds

Though undergraduate women at MIT are as successful as their male classmates, they still feel less confident and believe that they are given less credit, according to a report released today by Caroline Chin ’16 and Kamilla Tekiela ’16.

The report, titled “The Status of Undergraduate Women at MIT”, is modeled after the 1999 study, “A Study on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT,” which highlighted discrimination against female science faculty. It prompted universities around the country to evaluate themselves as well, according to Yale University’s Women Faculty Forum.

“Graduating females have statistically higher grade point averages (GPAs) than their male counterparts, controlling for major,” the report said.

“[D]uring their time at MIT, females and males are equally as likely to receive an award or to publish a paper,” yet they do not feel that they are given credit for their work.

“We’re hoping that this [report] will allow for discussion across other campuses and male-dominated fields,” Chin said in an interview with The Tech. Having a similar report come from a peer institution would be a sign of widespread change, which is one of Tekiela’s and Chin’s goals.

Here at MIT, Tekiela hopes that “women will be proud of what they accomplish,” and that internal biases, like impostor’s syndrome, will be felt less strongly on campus.

Chin said that after taking a gender studies class in her sophomore year, she began to see “behavior differences in [her] friends, like women being less confident.” To see if this was her perception or reality, she pursued a “data-driven approach to figuring out MIT gender differences.”

Tekiela emphasized the value of this strategy — “a data-driven approach would enable people to have more discussions and motivate policy changes … the report on female faculty was data-driven, and we’ve seen real impact on policy at MIT this way.”

Chin and Tekiela expect a wide range of reactions — “no student at MIT is the same [as any other],” Chin said.

Regardless, Tekiela believes that there won’t be a major negative response given the responses the 2014 Community Attitudes on Sexual Assault (CASA) Survey received.

“People didn’t realize [the extent of sexual harassment and assault] that was happening on MIT’s campus … they thought [MIT] was better and should be better,” Tekiela told The Tech.

Chin and Tekiela began the report in November 2013, working with now-Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart, Dean of Undergraduate Education Dennis Freeman, and their sponsor and Institute Community and Equity Officer Edmund Bertschinger.

They used institutional research to get much of their data, released a survey in November

of 2014, and held focus groups. In these groups, they found that “when someone starts to tell a story then people often start relating,” Chin said. The focus groups were limited to women so that participants would feel like they could relate to each other and better speak about their experiences, according to Tekiela.

Chin and Tekiela initially planned for a fall 2015 release, but as they tried to finish, they saw that there were more and more questions to consider, people to involve, and recommendations to discuss. The report now comes out alongside the Black Students’ Union recommendations, as well as similar efforts from LGBT, Latino, and other groups on campus.

The ultimate message is empowerment: “women are doing very well, and they should be proud of what they’re doing,” Tekiela said. Chin hopes that eventually “females and males come to MIT and don’t have different experiences based on gender or race … that they have different experiences because they are different people.”

Annon over 8 years ago

Thanks for posting this article! I'd strongly recommend everyone look at the report as well - read the executive summary and the results at the very least.

It's very well written and does a great job of identifying issues and painting a clear path forward without pointing fingers or placing blame on people.

Great job Caroline and Kamilla!

Atul chandra over 8 years ago

Very interesting. So MIT too shows women getting a raw deal.

Sanjana has done a great job in bringing this research of Takiela and Chin to everyone's notice in a succinct and unbiased manner.