Are men better at math? Not according to some recent research. A June 24th 2015 Science 2.0 News article I Think, Therefore I Am A Math Expert  reports on recent Washington State University research which suggests that men are kidding themselves. The report describes the test results from 2 studies with undergraduate students, one of 122 participants and the other 184. The conclusion was that “Across the two studies it was found that men overestimated the number of problems they solved, while women quite accurately reported how well they fared.”

The Study 2 results show that “because the male participants believed they had a greater knack for maths than was the case, they were more likely to pursue maths courses and careers than women.” The researchers also found that that “women who had more positive past experiences with mathematics tended to rate their numerical abilities higher than they really were. This highlights the value of positively reinforcing a woman’s knack for mathematics especially at a young age.”

Another area where research findings are unexpected is the STEM “leaky pipeline” theory. A Feb. 17, 2015  U.S. News Report No ‘Leaky Pipeline’ for Women in STEM is based on an analysis of 30-year trends in pSTEM fields – those in physical science, technology, engineering and mathematics (but excluding social sciences and life sciences.)  The research was carried out by David I. Miller, Northwestern University and Jonathan Wai, Duke University and the results published in a Feb. 17, 2015 Frontiers in Psychology original research article.

The U.S. News Report notes that “The so-called “leaky pipeline” theory suggests factors such as discrimination and a lack of interest make it more likely that women will leave academic STEM fields. In other words, women who earn bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields may be less likely than men to earn a doctorate in a STEM field.”

However, the  analysis of 30-year trends in pSTEM fields “ shows the gender gap in persistence rates actually has closed since the 1970s, when men were nearly two times as likely to later earn a relevant doctorate. By the 1990s, the gap had completely closed, the study found.”  The researchers note that men still outnumber women about 3 to 1 but ”the differences are not explained by gender bias in the pipeline – the percentage of women earning pSTEM degrees is now higher at the doctoral level than at the bachelor’s degree level”.

A different take on the “leaky pipeline” theory comes in a Jun 17, 2015 Silicon Valley Business Journal article, ‘Leaky pipeline’ just excuse for major diversity problem, Pinterest engineer says The article quotes Pinterest’s Tracy Chou, “Tech companies need to stop using the “leaky pipeline” theory for the lack of women and minorities in engineering… .The retention numbers are pretty stark. Women are frustrated and switching to other industries. There’s something about the culture that’s been pushing women and minorities out; there’s something that companies have to focus on to fix.”

What else is recent research telling us about the gender gap? The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)  Women in STEM Statistics 2015 show some progress but still a long way to go in removing gender bias. Results include:

  • Female STEM graduates are more likely to find work quicker, but also more likely to find themselves in jobs that don’t require a degree such as childcare, retail and business admin. 40% of female graduates and 28% of male graduates were in jobs classed as below professional level
  • Women professional engineers have doubled in number since 2012 but females represent 6%(7,500) of registered engineers and technicians in the UK
  • Once in work, many female engineers report high job-satisfaction, although there are still problems within the industry regarding the retention of women. For example, two-thirds of female engineers do not resume their engineering jobs after taking maternity leave

The Women in STEM Statistics 2015 also highlight the value of women board directors (WBD):

  • Companies with the most WBD outperform those with the least on ROS by 16%
  • Companies with the most WBD outperform those with the least on ROIC by 26%
  • Companies with sustained high representation of WBD, defined as those with three or more WBD in at least four of five years, significantly outperformed those with sustained low representation by 84 percent on ROS, by 60 percent on ROIC, and by 46 percent on ROE