Sunday, November 22, 2009

Live Chat: Gender Gaps at the Top in Math and Science

Summary: In a recent chat on, psychologists Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams, authors of The Mathematics of Sex, chimed in on why men continue to take the lead in math and science oriented professions. Read the transcript here.

When asked why women lag behind men, Williams was of the mind that parental influence plays a major role in whether or not girls will enter STEM professions. She says girls, whose families push a more traditional role, are at a disadvantage. While it is easy to blame it on gender roles in the US, as pointed out during the exchange, there are more women in STEM professions in traditional countries like Russia and Turkey.

The question was asked whether or not same sex classrooms would help girls and the response was a reminder that girls get better grades than boys in math and science classes. Also noted, girls and boys take the same number of math courses in middle and high school, so being in homogeneous classrooms is not a deterrent.

Still, why are there fewer women operating at higher level STEM professions?As older males are retiring, new hires are largely female but they leave in order to have families and are the main caregivers of their children. In summation, it's about personal lifestyle choices versus lack of ability, not having positive role models, or receiving negative messages from society.

Classroom connection: Below are a few suggestions to motivate girls in math and science in the classroom.

  1. Teachers should take deliberate steps to involve female students.
  2. Girls should be shown images of women scientists and given a greater sense of possibility about the person they could become.
  3. All students should be encouraged to consider science and science-related careers by exposing them to a range of school and community activities.
  4. Effective mentoring and "bridge programs" can prepare girls for challenging coursework in math and science.
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