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Change the Equations. Girls = scientists. Science = Everyone October 31, 2011

Posted by kyliev in Gender differences?, girls in science, STEM pipeline efforts.
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Imaginative. Cooperative. Independent. Objective. Hands-On. Emotive. Practical. Risk-taking. 

 Which of these words describe do you associate with girls? boys? scientists?

In 2011, the stereotype that boys are better suited for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and girls are better suited for the arts and humanities still persists. It seems so 1900’s to ask if science is inherently masculine, or if women and girls are inherently uncut for technical fields. Women throughout history have challenged these ideas: Merit-Ptah was a noted as a “chief physician” in 2700 BC (that’s almost 5,000 years ago!) and Marie Curie was the first person–not woman, person–to win two Nobel Prizes (in physics and chemistry) in 1911. Even if you cry outlier, the differences in achievement in STEM subjects have been decreasing between men and women, and women have made great strides in many STEM fields in the past half-century. Much of the recent accomplishments can be ascribed to the women’s movement.

A painting depicting "chief physician" Merit Ptah

In many ways, the accomplishments of women surpass those of men: women regularly make up over half of medical students in the US and European countries. In other ways, advances have been less overwhelming. Women represent less than a third of those employed in mathematics, engineering, and architecture. Between 2001 and 2006, the percentage of women among those earning bachelor’s degrees in statistics and computer information actually decreased. Why are there still so few women in so many STEM fields?

The problem is not just that society see boys as better scientists, but see better scientists as boys.

When you first associated the adjectives at the top to the group they best describe, did you find more commonality between the set describing boys and scientists, or girls and scientists? The problem is not just that society see boys as better scientists, but it sees better scientists as boys.

The characteristics that we admire in scientists–bold, assertive, adventurous–too often are the exact qualities that we discourage young girls from showing. For decades girls have been discouraged from going into science. At the same time, has the scientific culture and STEM fields been discouraged from being more open to girls?

The first two time Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie

At every stage of her education and career, obstacles from blatant stereotypes to subconscious associations discourage women from STEM subjects and careers. This blog series will look at the relationship between girls and science from elementary school to the work place. Each post will cover a particular age group and their experiences with science. The goal of this series to give an overview of the challenges girls and women face in the STEM fields and ideas as to how to resolve these obstacles.

Test your implicit biases and take the Gender-Science Implicit Association Test!

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