As a response to the NYT infographic showing that girls underperform in science in the US, Canada, and Britain compared to the rest of the world, The Guardian has published a list of ways to get girls interested in science.
Among their super brilliant suggestions from “experts”:
- Color code all the crap in your house, because girls like colors.
- Make girls read all the instructions for their toy kits out loud because “it’s amazing what girls skip when they don’t slow themselves down for this step”.
- If a girl doesn’t understand something, just make her memorize it.
- Cook more! Because measuring and timing things is mathy.
- Point out the math in domestic activities, like shopping! (Especially “if your daughter wants something that is too expensive” – because us ladies are so irresponsible with our money).
Basically, those of us with lady brains need to slow down and read instructions, because we can’t build Lego sets otherwise, memorize stuff cause it’s just too hard for us to grasp, and use cooking and shopping to understand math concepts.
The entire point of the infographic was to demonstrate that boys and girls don’t have different intrinsic science abilities, but that culture plays a huge role. So one might think that maybe boys and girls don’t have different interests because of intrinsic sex differences; maybe they have different interests because of culture? The Guardian has obviously failed to figure that out; instead, they resort to age-old stereotypes about women to come up with patronizing and insulting suggestions for getting girls interested in science. Guess what? Girls are already interested in science, and they’re already good at it. It’s just that certain cultural and societal influences make it more difficult for girls to see science as something they can pursue.
The New York Times has a great infographic showing the results from a science test administered to 15-year old students in 65 different countries. The results are broken down by gender so you can see in which countries girls/boys score higher. One gender does not have an overwhelmingly higher aptitude for science. In some countries, boys excel; in others, girls excel (though girls do excel in a more countries than boys).
What should be immediately apparent from this infographic is that the gender that excels on this science exam is strongly location-dependent. Girls tended to underperform in the Americas (including the U.S.) and in Western Europe, but overperform in Northern/Eastern/Southern Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. This means that gender gaps in science ability don’t have to do with intrinsic ability (as some would suggest), but with other factors, such as cultural stereotypes. One suggested reason for the observed gender gaps is that stereotype threat is stronger in some countries. Countries also offer different incentives for pursuing math and science, and value math, science, and education differently.
Hopefully, information such as this will help quell opinions that boys are intrinsically more talented at math and science than girls.
Source: New York Times
New research finds a correlation showing that fathers who support gender equality have daughters with higher career aspirations. Researchers gave questionnaires to almost 400 elementary school age children and at least one parent for each child. Parents were asked about gender stereotypes and division of household chores.
The fewer gender stereotypes a father had, the more likely his daughter was to say she wanted to work outside the home. These girls also had more broader, less gendered interests (i.e. they are just as likely to play with trucks as they are with barbies). This was also true for the daughters with parents who divided housework more evenly.
Though correlation does not equal causation, the results of this study are certainly interesting, and it seems logical to me that the more gender equity that exists in a household, the less constrained young girls will be by gender stereotypes.
I’m in the midst of my first semester of graduate school, and (made apparent by my lack of blogging) have been insanely busy. I’m learning lots and making time for fun, but suffice it to say that I have never worked this hard.
One of the things I was really excited about when coming to graduate school was the prospect of starting to do some outreach. So I signed on to help coordinate a physics demo day for local girl scout troops. My duties were relatively low-key compared to the main organizers, but there were moments when I felt like I wanted to kick myself for volunteering my time to something that wasn’t a necessity when I had so many other “higher priority” obligations. I wondered if it was worth adding another pull to my time when I was already overwhelmed, however worthy outreach might be.
The event was today. And it was totally worth it. The station I participated in had the girls line up as a human solar system, first trying to figure out the relative distances themselves, and then with the actual distances. I think it created a really nice visual for understanding the distance scales of the solar system, and they seemed to enjoy it. Afterwards, we just answered whatever questions they had about astronomy. We got lots of expected questions about black holes, aliens, and Pluto, but also some great questions about how planets form (we don’t really know..) and how big/small galaxies can be (we also don’t have a good answer for that..). It was great to see how interested they were in astronomy/physics. And it was really rewarding to not only be able to answer their questions, but to tell them “Astronomers are studying that right now! Maybe one day you can figure it out!”
Anyway, I had a blast, the girls all seemed to get a lot out of it, and even though it took up some precious hours, I’m really glad I did it (and definitely plan to do more).
Also, when we asked the room full of ~30 girls how many wanted to be scientists, a good chunk raised their hands. Very encouraging
Today is International Day of the Girl, which is a day dedicated to “highlighting, celebrating, discussing, and advancing girls lives and opportunities across the globe.” In honor of today, CNN has asked powerful women leaders (from politicians to reporters to scientists) to give advice to their 15 year old selves. This got me thinking about advice that I would give to my 15 year old self, which also happens to be advice I still struggle to take today. I would tell my 15 year old self that sometimes, it is okay to put yourself and your needs first. I think that when I was younger, I tried too hard to be non-confrontational and to try to please everyone, to the point that I was not putting myself first when I needed to. I think this is still something I struggle with, as it’s a hard habit to break, but I’m getting there. Tied closely to this is the ability to say no, which is most definitely something I haven’t gotten good at yet. You don’t have say yes to everyone and everything. If you do, you will probably drive yourself crazy. You need to make the decisions that are right for you. I’m not saying to live your life in a consistently selfish way, just that sometimes it’s okay to be a little selfish and do the things that are right for you. In short: take care of yourself.
Even if these are skills that are more relevant at this point in my life, I think they are skills that need to be developed early. So those are my bits of advice for fifteen year old Vivienne, and I think they’re relevant for many women and girls who try too hard to make everyone happy at the expense of their own happiness.
What advice would you give your fifteen year old self?
After reading some tweets about the percentages of women in undergrad/grad physics/astro programs, I decided to tweet mine, and then got curious about whats going on in other programs. In my high school AP physics class, I was one of two girls in a class of ~30. In my undergrad physics department, we had a handful of women in a department with ~30 or so majors. I’m currently a graduate student in an astronomy department, and there are five women in my incoming class of seven. I know this is definitely atypical (I also know someone in an astro grad program where the incoming class is all men), but I’m curious about other programs, and the difference between the fraction of women in astronomy and physics programs.
Are/were you in a physics or astronomy graduate program? What is/was the fraction of women? Is it any different from the fraction of women in your undergraduate department?
Yesterday, I posted about one of the effects of the dearth of women in science – women’s voices not being heard. Today, we can talk about one of the causes: unconscious bias.
In a recent study, 127 science faculty members at research institutions were given resumes of applicants for a lab manager position. All resumes given out were identical, except for being randomly assigned a male or female name. Faculty members were asked to rate the competence of the applicant, and how much pay and mentoring would be offered to the applicant. The male applicants were rated more competent and hireable than female applicants. Starting salaries decided upon for male applicants were higher than for the female applicants, and the male students would have been given more career mentoring. The starting salary to be offered to female applicants was about $26,000, compared to about $30,000 for the male applicants.
These results held regardless of the gender, age, field, or tenure status of the faculty member. These results are discouraging, and they indicate the pervasive and deep seeded nature of unconscious bias. Yes, some people are legitimately prejudiced against women. However, I think the main issue here is unconscious bias. Unconscious bias occurs when people act/make decisions based upon subconscious prejudices that they may not be aware of. Even people that support equality for women can have subconscious biases against women, based on the stereotypes that pervade our society. The unconscious bias confirmed by this study leads to real consequences for women in science: decreased chances of being hired, less mentoring, and significantly less pay. Everyone has unconscious biases; even women can be unconsciously biased against women. That’s why it is so important that everyone be aware of the existence of unconscious bias, so that they make an effort to be aware of their biases when deciding who to hire/work with. The more people are made aware of the existence of unconscious bias, the more we can begin to chip away at the issues that arise because of it.
A new study recently revealed that women speak less when they are underrepresented in a group, speaking less than 75% of the time men spoke. The investigators told participants that they would be participating in tasks to earn money and that how much money each person would take home was based on their performance, and their group’s decision about how to redistribute money earned by the members. The participants were put in groups of five and asked to choose the most just principle of redistribution. They were asked to make the decision considering how it would apply to society. For some groups, the decision would be based on majority rule; for others, it would have to be a unanimous decision. Afterwards, participants had to rate who the most influential member of the group was. There were 470 participating individuals.
The main results of the study are:
- Men are never disadvantaged in speech participation, while women often are.
- Women participate less than their share when outnumbered, and participate at an equal share when in a large majority.
- The more vocal a person was in a group, the greater their perceived influence on the final decision of the group. Women gain a more equal influence (which translates to greater authority) as the number of women in the group rises.
- When women are in the minority, they have greater influence on unanimous decisions than in decisions based on majority-rule.
- When groups are forced to make a unanimous decision, women are not disadvantaged in speech time or authority, even when in a minority.
The results of this study demonstrate the unfortunate effects that being in the minority can have on women’s participation. This is particularly relevant for male-dominated fields, such as STEM fields and politics. Hopefully the results from this study can help departments and companies shape their decision making policies to make sure that women’s voices are heard.
I’m interested in people’s personal experiences with this topic. Have you observed women participating less when they are outnumbered/participated less when in the minority?
[Karpowitz, Mendelberg & Shaker (2012). American Political Science Review, Vol 106, No. 3]
A new online mentoring program, Women in Technology Sharing Online (WitsOn) will connect undergraduate women (and men!) in STEM with female mentors who include astronaut Mae Jemison, Maria Klawe (president of Harvey Mudd College), Padmasree Warrior (Cisco’s chief techology officer), and Jackie Barton (the chair of the Caltech chemistry department). There are over 300 mentors total. Mentors will answer questions posed by undergrads, and participate in discussions with them, giving career and life advice to those who may not have female mentors.
I think this program is a fantastic idea, and is something that will prove really valuable to women just beginning their STEM careers. I’d like to see how it could expand to include graduate students, as I would imagine the discussions they’ll be having there are discussions I’d very much like to be a part of!
A new study released at a meeting of the American Sociological Society examines how male scientists balance family responsibilities. Through interviews with 74 biologists and physicists at various career stages, researchers got a picture of how male scientists are attempting to manage their family lives and intense careers. The study unfortunately found that a majority of men surveyed do not take on equal responsibility with regards to “home duties”.
About 1/3 of the men were classified as being “egalitarian partners”. They expressed the same concerns that many female scientists with children express, and discussed “the need to sacrifice…to try to make it all work”. A little over 20% of the men were classified as “neo-traditional” (meaning that they are in dual-earning households, but still subscribe to some traditional gender roles). This category was actually made up of mostly graduate students, and they felt that their wives were primarily responsible for home duties. The authors express that these men over-emphasized that their wive’s taking primary responsibility at home was their choice. It appears that many felt childcare and career sacrifice for children were women’s issue, rather than issues that would affect their own career. Thirty percent of the men were “traditional breadwinners”, who were usually tenured. They expressed the benefits they get from having wives who didn’t work outside the home. Perhaps the most shocking part of the whole article is the following:
“…others seemed decidedly less sympathetic to the impact of their choices. Asked, “Do you think that having children then is difficult to manage with being a scientist?” one physicist said, “No, absolutely not. That’s why you have a wife.”
Yes. Wives exist so that male scientists can do their jobs without having to worry about childcare. *facepalm*
This quote is really disturbing, because these attitudes pose harm to scientists of both genders with children. If academia is to strive to be more family friendly, all members must be aware of the difficulties of trying to balance a family and a career. Of course, not all scientists will choose to have children, but those who don’t cannot be so ignorant as to assume that work-family balance isn’t an issue. In addition, women scientists are more likely to have partners in academia. Causing these women to shoulder a disproportionate amount of childcare responsibility is detrimental to the advancement of women in science.
Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/08/22/sociologists-consider-how-male-scientists-balance-work-and-family#ixzz24X0joYFw
Inside Higher Ed