Physical Review Physics Education Research (Aug 2016)

Fitting in or opting out: A review of key social-psychological factors influencing a sense of belonging for women in physics

  • Karyn L. Lewis,
  • Jane G. Stout,
  • Steven J. Pollock,
  • Noah D. Finkelstein,
  • Tiffany A. Ito

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 12, no. 2
p. 020110


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[This paper is part of the Focused Collection on Gender in Physics.] A number of cultural, social, environmental, and biological factors have been suggested to explain women’s relatively lower representation in physics and other science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Given its persistence, the causes of gender disparities are likely to be complex and multiply determined. In this review paper, we discuss how a sense of belonging relates to women’s interest, persistence, and achievement in physics. We explore what it means to “fit in” and belong in academic contexts, the situational and interpersonal antecedents to belonging, and the consequences of a lack of belonging. We review the empirical evidence for the efficacy of interventions designed to bolster a sense of belonging. Based on these interventions we conclude the paper with a number of practical recommendations to affirm women’s sense of belonging and create more welcoming and inclusive physics environments for all students.