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Helping and Hindering Undergraduate Women’s STEM Motivation: Experiences With STEM Encouragement, STEM-Related Gender Bias, and Sexual Harassment


Prior research indicates many women either leave or pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees because the social climate undermined or strengthened their motivation and career aspirations. We investigated whether women’s experiences of sexual harassment and STEM-related gender bias negatively predicted their STEM motivation (task value, competence beliefs, and perceived costs) and STEM career aspirations. We also tested whether STEM encouragement from friends and family positively predicted motivation and aspirations. To consider domain-specific effects, we also tested the predictors in relation to non-STEM motivation and career aspirations. Students’ grade point average was controlled in all analyses. The sample was undergraduate women enrolled in gateway biology courses for majors ( N = 685; M = 19.67 years of age; 35% Asian, 31% White, and 27% Latinx). A majority experienced gender bias (60.9%) or sexual harassment (78.1%) at least once in the past year. STEM-related gender bias from classmates and sexual harassment from instructors (faculty, teaching assistants, or graduate students) were negatively related to STEM motivation and career aspirations. Perceived STEM encouragement from friends was positively related to motivation, and STEM encouragement from friends and family predicted STEM career aspirations. Finally, domain-specific effects were indicated. Our research highlights the need for programs that increase awareness of discrimination, combat bias and harassment, and affirm students’ STEM interest. Additional online materials for this article are available on PWQ's website at

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