The Role of Self-Efficacy (or Confidence) in Women’s Participation in STEM

Written by Dr. Amanda Rockinson-Szapkiw, LPC, EdD, PhD
University of Memphis, Professor in Instructional Design and Technology
As a seven-year-old girl, I sat next to my dad. My tiny hands typed the words and symbols he said out loud.
					left_pad = turtle.Turtle()
Every once in a while, he would insert, “You’re really good at this.” His praise heightened my motivation and confidence.
He was teaching me to program, and I was creating pong, the famous arcade game that simulates table tennis. 
Once the programming was finished, we would spend several hours laughing as we dragged our digital paddles vertically across the screen’s left and right sides, striking the little white dot back and forth. 
While teaching me to program, he was simultaneously building my self-efficacy in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). He helped me envision myself as a “scientist.” And less than 30 years later, I would become “Dr.” and enter a field focused on design, learning engineering, and technology. In addition, I would teach research and statistics. 
A girl’s STEM self-efficacy influences her STEM performance, persistence, and achievement.1,2 When her STEM self-efficacy is low, she is likely to avoid STEM tasks and perform poorly at such tasks. Even if she intends to pursue a STEM degree or career, low self-efficacy can result in failure to persist.3 Whereas, if her STEM self-efficacy is high, she will actively engage, participate, pursue, and persist in STEM, even when challenging.4
For decades, research has documented the gender disparity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees and careers.5 The STEM gender gap begins in early elementary school. While girls perform similarly to boys on math and science achievement, they have less confidence in their abilities.6 Middle and high school girls lack confidence in their STEM capabilities, and consequently, lose interest in STEM and motivation to engage in advanced STEM classes.7 The gender gap exponentially expands at the college and university level where less women than men pursue STEM degrees and even fewer pursue or persist in a STEM career after graduating.8
When women fail to enter or continue in these degrees and careers, a large segment of talent is lost, influencing the success of society and creative inventions that can lead to better living.9,10 While the reasons for women’s lack of STEM participation is varied and complex, researchers have consistently documented women’s self-efficacy is central to their choice to enter and continue in STEM.11,12
Archytas has encouraged me with their passion for hiring women engineers as well as outreach to the local community for increasing STEM participation among women. This mutual devotion has opened the door for me to work with Archytas in building partnerships with community colleges to encourage more female participation within manufacturing and robotics programs. As we aim to help people thrive in automation, it is important to not overlook the value women bring to STEM careers.
  1. Bandura, A., & Locke, E. A. (2003). Negative self-efficacy and goal effects revisited. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88 (1), 87–99. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.88.1.87
  2. Schunk, D. H. (1995). Proceedings from Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Association: Development of strategic competence through self-regulating attributions. NY: New York. Retrieved from
  3. Shaw, E. J., & Barbuti, S. (2010). Patterns of persistence in intended college major with a focus on STEM majors. NACADA Journal, 30(2), 19-34.
  4. Komarraju, M., & Nadler, D. (2013). Self-Efficacy and academic achievement: Why do implicit beliefs, goals, and effort regulation matter? Learning and Individual Differences, 25, 67-72.
  5. Su, R., & Rounds, J. (2015). All STEM fields are not created equal: People and things interests explain gender disparities across STEM fields. Frontiers in psychology, 6, 189.
  6. Voyer, D., & Voyer, S. D. (2014). Gender differences in scholastic achievement: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 140(4), 1174–1204.
  7. Fryer, Roland, G. Jr.,& Steven D. Levitt. 2010. An empirical analysis of the gender gap in mathematics. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 2 (2): 210-40.
  8. Hill, C., Corbett, C., & St. Rose, A. (2010). Why so few? Women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Washington, DC: American Association of University Women. Retrieved from
  9. Batsheva, G., & Boards, A. (2019). A seat at the table: Exploring the experiences of underrepresented minoritized women in STEM graduate programs. Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community, 47(4), 354–365.
  10. Fouad, N. A., Singh, R., Cappaert, K., Chang, W., & Wan, M. (2016). Comparison of women engineers who persist in or depart from engineering. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 92, 79–93.
  11. Hill, C., Corbett, C., & St. Rose, A. (2015). Solving the equation. The variables for women’s success in engineering and computing. Washington, DC: American Association of University Women. Retrieved from
  12. Sadker, M., & Sadker, D. (1994). Failing at fairness: How our schools cheat girls. New York: Simon & Schuster.