Consortium Member Feature: Dr. Christa Nater
University of British Columbia, Department of Psychology
Toni Schmader, Ph.D.
Welcome to the Winter 2021 edition of the Engendering Success in STEM Newsletter. After another six months of working through the pandemic, I continue to be inspired by the hard work, innovation, and accomplishments of our research team and partners. In November, we hosted another successful virtual ESS Annual Meeting that included five fantastic guest speakers who delivered engaging and informative talks about intersectionality and the effective planning and implementation of EDI initiatives in STEM. In our midterm review last year, we received especially high marks for our partner engagement and knowledge mobilization. Continuing on that theme, we are pleased to announce six new academic publications, a new white paper, and a range of academic, professional, and media talks and appearances. We are happy to welcome four new postdoctoral fellows, four new graduate students, and two new staff to the consortium. We also congratulate a number of team members who have received awards, promotions, or fellowships, or who have accepted new positions to launch their careers. With the latest emergence of the Omicron variant and changes happening quickly around the world, it looks to be another challenging few months with delays in resuming normal data collection. In the meantime, I am hopeful we will be able to adapt and continue working together with you and your colleagues in bringing awareness and positive cultural change to those active in STEM communities across the country.
University of British Columbia, Department of Psychology
What was the path that led you to study Social Psychology?
For as long as I remember, I have had a keen interest in social justice, equality, and fairness. After high school, I started my occupational life with an apprenticeship (which is a very common path in Switzerland) at a city government. As part of this, I worked in the social welfare office. This work awakened my deeper curiosity in understanding why societies are often characterized by injustice, inequality, and a lack of equal chances. Out of this experience, I decided to do a bachelor’s degree in psychology, sociology, crime and criminal law. At the time I chose the topic of my master’s thesis, many European nations were introducing legislated quota regulations to accelerate progress towards gender balance on boards of directors. Fascinated by this forceful diversity intervention, I became interested in antecedents and consequences of (gender) biases in the workplace. This interest, coupled with my desire to contribute in a small way to a society that is more inclusive and fair for everyone, drove my decision to pursue a Ph.D. in social psychology. Even more, this is what continues to invigorate my research interest in diversity and inclusion.
Can you tell me a bit about your Ph.D. research at University of Bern in Switzerland?
Broadly speaking, my Ph.D. research aimed at understanding mechanisms that contribute to persisting social inequalities. In two lines of research, I examined (unintended) consequences of institutional diversity interventions. The first line focused on mandatory quota regulations and the often-made claim that they create beneficial long-term effects via more indirect routes such as role modelling. In a series of experimental studies, we found that quota-based selected women do not always foster women’s aspirations and sometimes thwart men’s aspirations, undercutting the potentially beneficial effects of the presence of women leaders due to the quota on other women’s leadership interest. For quota-based selected women leaders to be effective role models, it is key that other women see them as competent and deserving leaders. The second line of research tested a diversity intervention that relaxes the usual masculine framing of leadership by emphasizing its feminine aspects. In a study with simulated job interviews, we found, for instance, that this intervention alleviates women’s physiological stress response in job interviews for leadership positions and has no effects on men’s reactions. Taken together, my Ph.D. research documented that gender diversity interventions have the potential to encourage the next generation of potential female leaders at pivotal moments on their way to a leadership career.
What are you currently working on within the ESS research team as a Postdoc at UBC?
Within the ESS framework, I am examining whether and how an inclusive organisational culture fosters women’s career success and advancement into leadership in masculine-typed STEM workplaces. More specifically, together with Prof. Toni Schmader, I am examining whether the inclusiveness of an organizational culture frees women from the male default of using dominant leadership strategies to emerge as leaders. Related to this, we are interested in understanding how the inclusiveness of a culture affects the way in which others react to women’s (and men’s) dominant leadership behavior.
What was your main inspiration for joining the ESS team?
I was inspired by the very important and cutting-edge research that is been done within the ESS consortium and the amazing members of the ESS team, some of whom have been role models for me since my master’s degree studies. I am therefore very happy I could join ESS and become a part of this great consortium.
How do you see your research as applying to gender inclusion and diversity more broadly?
My work addresses both basic and applied research questions, both aimed at advancing the understanding of mechanisms that perpetuate social inequalities. In a recent meta-analysis, we focused on people’s beliefs about the typical attributes of women and men, called gender stereotypes, which give rise to biased behavior and judgements. Using opinion poll data, we documented how gender stereotypes have changed over the last seven decades (link to publication). My more applied research covers topics pertaining to both men’s underrepresentation in care-oriented occupations and women’s underrepresentation in leadership positions. In a recent study, we showed that people discounted men’s competence and ability to care for young children and thus perceived men to be less suitable for professional childcare work than women (link). Targeting women’s underrepresentation in leadership, our research documented when diversity statements in job advertisements for leadership positions can encourage women to apply, namely when they either merely encourage women to apply or select women preferentially given equal qualifications (link). All in all, my research provides insights for designing science-driven interventions and policy-making to mitigate discrimination and foster inclusion and diversity.
You recently moved to the Vancouver area from Europe, what are your impressions so far? I can imagine it was very complicated moving across the world during a pandemic!
Vancouver strikes me as an exceptionally beautiful place! The city has so much to offer, and I am very much enjoying the diverse and vibrant culture, including the wide variety of superb Asian restaurants (as Asian cuisine is much harder to find in Switzerland). But Vancouver’s stunning nature with the snowy mountains and crystal-clear mountain lakes has definitely won my heart. Finally, the people and their welcoming culture and willingness to provide a helping hand made settling-in so much easier. These aspects helped to immediately forget that the move itself was a bit of a hassle with fast changing Covid restrictions. In the end, however, we were lucky as the Canadian government lifted the quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travels just two days before our arrival. Thanks to this, I could explore and appreciate some of the highlights Vancouver offers right from the very beginning.