- Despite their greater numbers on campus, women are less likely than men to say they feel comfortable speaking up to share a less popular opinion, according to new data shared by Gallup.
- Part of the broader Gallup Alumni Survey, the data shows 30% of female students graduating with bachelor's degrees between 2013 and 2018 felt comfortable sharing those ideas in class, compared to 35% of male graduates. Across the 1-5 scale, women reported lower willingness to share than men.
- The survey also found that graduates who felt more open to sharing less popular ideas also reported stronger emotional attachment to their alma maters.
The survey adds more insight to a debate that has been churning for decades in environments ranging from K-12 classrooms to the boardroom and Congress. In higher ed, studies and other observations have found that men tend to speak up more often in venues such as academic conferences and classes.
"Prior research has shown women are less likely than their male peers to voice their views, opinions or ask questions in the classroom and many believe it's a result of our culture and gender roles that have emerged as a result," Stephanie Marken, executive director of education research at Gallup, told Education Dive in an email. She said Gallup has not asked the question previously and therefore couldn't tell whether such attitudes are changing.
Marken said the results didn't differ noticeably between public and private four-year colleges. "How well they inspire inclusivity has far more to do with their values and far less to do with their structure," she said. "A good reminder that all institutions can be inclusive and embrace students' unique points of views regardless of their size, structure, control or type."
A 2014 study analyzing introductory biology courses is one of several studies that have found disparities in classroom participation by gender. To close those gaps, the authors suggest randomly calling on students, which can prevent them from opting out of discussions and can limit potential bias from the instructor. Additionally, instructors can help reduce students' anxiety by having them form small groups to discuss their answers beforehand.
Other ways to encourage students' participation include mentioning their previous contributions when calling on them and providing discussion questions in advance, according to a guide from The Chronicle of Higher Education.
New forms of learning technology could also help boost participation across different student groups. Some programs allow students to ask questions anonymously, potentially taking off some of the pressure when participating in class.