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Innate genius or hard work? Professor Sarah-Jane Leslie argues that the perceived amount of genius or hard work required to succeed in an academic field is an indicator of the presence and extent of the gender gap in that field.

Sarah-Jane LeslieSome academic disciplines have significant gender gaps (e.g., philosophy), while others do not (e.g., molecular biology). This phenomenon is often characterised in terms of the natural sciences/mathematics having large gender gaps, and the social sciences/humanities having small or no gender gaps.

But are there general, isolable factors that predict the occurrence of gender gaps across all academic disciplines, and also within the broad domains of natural sciences/mathematics, and social sciences/humanities?

Professor Leslie and her collaborators have found that one such factor may be academics' beliefs about what is required for success. It seems that the extent to which innate, immutable, natural talent is emphasised at the expense of hard work and dedication predicts the presence and extent of the gender gap in that discipline.

In her talk, Professor Leslie will present the original data in support of the hypothesis to shed light on how these beliefs are communicated, the mechanisms by which they operate to discourage women's participation, and their developmental trajectory. Her findings suggest that even very young girls are vulnerable to being discouraged by such messages.

Oxford Talks

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