The purpose of our blog is to discuss topical issues, stories, and situations, as well as to share what we are up to and new ways for you to get involved. We are always searching for possible answers to the question: Why is a girl's worth culturally and historically relative?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Girls have a proven ability to succeed in STEM fields

Looking at some of our past posts, you would think that a career in science, technology, math, or engineering is all the rage for women these days. However, statistics show that women are much less likely than men to pursue a career in science and maths. The Chairman and CEO of L'Oréal and Chairman of the L'Oréal Foundation, Jean-Paul Agon, is a strong advocate for women in science, and argues that the talents of women should be nurtured, and they should bring their innovation to science.

The metaphor of a "leaky pipeline" is frequently used to describe the fact that women are under-represented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers. This "pipeline," carrying students from secondary school through university and on into STEM careers "leaks" students at various stages for a variety of reasons, and sometimes students who express interest in science careers will change their minds, selecting other areas of study at university. Whilst the gender gap in mathematics has narrowed recently, females are still less likely to pursue STEM than their male peers.

The under-representation of women in science and technology is not because they are less skilled in those areas, nor is it always due to specific gender barriers in those fields, but instead may be because they find better opportunities. In one study conducted by Ming-Te Wang at the University of Pittsburgh, women were found to possess broader intellectual talents, which provides them with greater occupational options. The study analysed data involving 1,500 college-bound students of above-average intelligence. They were first surveyed in 1992 as high school seniors and were then re-interviewed by phone in 2007, as 33 year-olds. This study identifies a critical link in the debate about why women are underrepresented in STEM fields. The results varied according to gender, in terms of the areas in which men and women excelled. Nearly two-thirds of females displayed higher scores on both the verbal and the math sections of the SAT.

Even though more women tend to show greater aptitude in math and language skills, the rate of women choosing STEM careers remains low. A study questioned participants about their math and English "self concepts," or how good they thought they were at those subjects and how much they enjoyed them, to find out whether women are discouraged from these fields or simply not interested in them for other reasons. Results show that participants play to their strengths: for those who think they are best at English, it may not matter that they are also skilled in math; they will choose the option where they can get the most support. Cultural stereotypes may be indirectly pushing women away from scientific fields. Girls will inadvertently choose the area that is more in line with social stereotypes and has richer social support affirming that skill, rather than another area in which they may also be highly skilled. Due to these cultural stereotypes, women are often lured away from pursuing a career in science despite their aptitude, and this places girls at a great disadvantage in entering STEM fields.

-Ayesha Khalid 
Junior Girl 
Girl Museum Inc.

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