Girls in STEM

A post I co-authored with Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe and Professor Rajini Rao has just been published on the science website, Nature.com. We address the false idea that girls are fundamentally inferior to boys at science due to our biological capabilities. We examine how gender stereotypes negatively impact women’s careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Gender stereotypes are perpetuated through the stories we tell children as soon as they’re born. We show how children in Prep and Grade 1 tend to draw scientists in gender-neutral ways, but by Grade 2 onwards, they start drawing White men in lab coats. By Grade 5 the stereotype that only White men are scientists has taken hold. The stereotype is both gendered and racial, as research shows that even minorities tend to draw White men, thus affecting diversity in science on multiple levels.

This stereotype is used in other ways by teachers, parents, the media and by other figures of authority to force girls to consider that maybe they’re not fit to do science. This is known as the “leaky pipeline,” with studies showing how girls and women leave STEM at various stages of their education and careers due to the cultural pressures and institutional obstacles they face.

It is imperative that those of us committed to equality and diversity collaborate with scientists from other fields in order to make progress. We can’t take for granted that our colleagues will eventually come to see the damage done by biological arguments. We can’t simply leave girls to navigate gender stereotypes on their own. We can’t rely on women being “more confident” and assertive when faced with discrimination, as research shows these individual approaches don’t work.

Read our article including the empirical evidence on the Nature website: http://blogs.nature.com/soapboxscience/2014/09/04/nature-vs-nurture-girls-and-stem

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