A new research report released by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) presents evidence that can help explain why there are so few women in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Eight key research findings point to environmental and social barriers which include stereotypes, gender bias, and obstacles within the STEM departments of colleges and universities.
We often think stereotypes exist in our society but we don’t know that stereotypes could actually affect the decisions we make later on in our lives. Research shows that the beliefs around us will affect the way we think. For example, if a girl feels that our society believes boys are better than girls at math, the belief will affect her, even if she doesn’t believe it herself. These stereotypes should be eliminated in order for young female to believe in themselves.
As I started writing this blog I was curious about the stereotypes young women perceive in their high schools. Therefore, I asked my sister, a sophomore in high school, if she felt there were any gender stereotypes in her school. She stated that in her school there is a common belief that boys do better than girls in STEM classes. For example, one of her teachers made the statement in class that “boys are better in science and girls are better in literature.” I was shocked to hear this as I thought it is the teacher’s job to encourage all students to explore STEM courses. I believe that stereotypes such as the one this teacher vocalized keep girls from becoming stronger in STEM. As a result, pursuing a career in a STEM field may not even occur to some young women.
I also thought it was interesting to read in the AAUW report about the former Harvard president who famously doubted that women are capable of succeeding at the highest levels of science and engineering. Since he spoke from such a powerful position, he furthered encouraged the stereotype that women may lack the ability to succeed in STEM fields. I believe that people in positions of authority, such as this former college president, should be aware when making a statement which could easily influence a group of young people negatively.
We live in a global village where men and women should be treated equally with respect. As educators, we should eliminate the stereotypes in our classrooms and increase all students’ interest in STEM. We should follow where the talent comes from but not focus on gender. I encourage you to read the report and comment on why you personally feel there are so few women in STEM fields.