"Wow, you suck at math," the male says to the other male. In the next image, a female is seen scrawling the exact same equation on a chalkboard. "Wow,girls suck at math," the same male onlooker states.Although humorous, the comic speaks of a pernicious view that continues to affect women and society. Despite the continued progress with females in the workforce, there is still a notable absence of women leading math and science professions. It isn't simply men who perpetuate the stereotype that women are not as innately inclined to these subjects—far from it! Several studies have shown unconscious biases across the board toward women in regard to their skills in math and science. Even some well-meaning teachers are being shown to believe these stereotypes, and thus the oppression of girls—some who could very well retain the skill set to be math and science prodigies—continues as women choose more "feminine" professions and men lead the pack when it comes to math, science, technology and engineering. Below, we are counting down the top 10 reasons you (yes, you) believe that girls are bad at math and science. Alongside these reasons, we will be providing research studies and analyses that debunk these beliefs.
We all know that you shouldn't hire someone under bias or prejudice, and although we still have a long way to go, there has been significant progress in hiring processes that work to ensure that discrimination is not a factor in the process. Still, with the average woman continuing to earn less than men overall, there is still plenty of room (as in, acres and creditworthy of room) for improvement.
Not all employers who make biased decisions while hiring actually intend to be biased in their decision. What if someone has an implicit or unconscious bias that is affecting their decisions? Sometimes even the most well-meaning of employers fall victim to their subconscious, and this in turn can have an impact on the people we seeing leading fields like math and science (among others). A 2008 study placed employers in one group and "job candidates" of different gender in another group. The researchers gave candidates a math test which entailed, "…adding up sets of two-digit numbers in a 4-minute math sprint. (There searchers did not tell the subjects, but it is already known that men and women perform equally well on this task.)" In spite of the simple math task being one that both genders could excel at, it was found that when employers were given a photograph of the candidate (which was the only information they had on the candidate), "…men were twice as likely to be hired for the simple math job, no matter whether it was a man or woman doing the hiring…"Moreover, the employers were given an Implicit Association Test, which revealed unconscious biases in regard to perceived ability for men and women in mathematical professions.
Self Fulfilling Prophecies
A self-fulfilling prophecy is defined as, "Any positive or negative expectation about circumstances, events, or people that may affect a person's behavior toward them in a manner that causes those expectations to be fulfilled…An employer who, for example, expects the employees to be disloyal and shirkers, will likely treat them in a way that will elicit the very response he or she expects."
In the above example, we saw how bias from employers could lead to such self-fulfilling prophecies, and girls and women have been shown to unconsciously secure their fates as those that either shy away from math and science professions, or whose ability to perform well in these subjects is hindered by internalization of biases. From a very young age, girls and boys are bombarded with messages about how their gender dictates certain facets of their personality as well as their aspirations. Boys may strive for success in math and science because they are led to believe that their gender provides them with innate skills in these subjects, while girls may experience anxiety at school while being handed math and science projects after being led to believe these subjects will never be their strong suit. A 2012 study published in Psychological Science sought to investigate the impact that entity theories(defined as the belief that innate qualities can dictate your skill set) had on children. The study involved 144 children between the ages of four and seven who were all instructed to play a matching game involving 3-D block images. During the first round of the game, one of there searchers told some of the children that the boys playing the game were more successful,while a second group was told that one of the females had excelled at the game, and a third group was given no information.
The impact of those statements was evident in the second, more challenging round of the game. As summarized by Slate: "The scores of those who were given the gender prompts fell by an average of 12.8 percent. By contrast, children who were told about another individual child's success or failure stayed about the same. Scores fell 2.9 percent among the kids who heard nothing."
Both Genders Believe the Stereotype
It isn't simply men who are perpetuating the stereotype that girls and women are bad at math and science—many females believe it too! In our first example where employers were found to have biases against women in regard to mathematical ability, the female employers were found to have just as strong as a bias as the male employers. Furthermore, various STEM research studies have shown that "…barriers like stereotypes, gender bias, and a discouraging classroom atmosphere can deter women from pursuing careers in these areas and may explain why there are so few female scientists and engineers." Another STEM research study noted, "Femininity is linked to math anxiety towards math and doing worse in math, so it may be difficult for women to feel both feminine and confident in their math abilities."
Ability Varies by Country
When it comes to a nature versus nurture argument regarding females and their abilities within math and science, nurture would reign supreme according to recent studies. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, "…15-year-old girls around the world, outperform boys in science – except for in the United States, Britain and Canada."
Further research showed that, "…countries with the poorest degrees of gender equality also have the widest gulfs between male and female mathematical performance." Conversely, the USD apartment of Education found that girls, "…who have a strong self-concept regarding their abilities in math or science are more likely to choose and perform well in elective math and science courses and to select math and science-related college majors and careers." None of this evidence is surprising, but it is disconcerting to think that girls and women who would otherwise be excelling in math and science and who may also have potential to expound upon these talents with successful—and profitable—careers within the field are pursuing different trajectories due to the biases against them.
Women Choose "Love" Over Math and Science
On an unconscious level, some women feel that pursuing careers in math and science will make them less romantically desirable. During middle and high school years, girls—particularly heterosexual girls—are liable to conform to what society purports to be "attractive" and"desirable" to the opposite sex. Girls are taught to be delicately feminine while boys are taught to be brawny and masculine.
In 2011, Psychology Today made note of different studies that showed women believed men would find them less desirable if they pursued mathematics or science careers and that women also cared about math less when having "romance on the mind." "In one study, male and female undergraduates saw images related to either romance (romantic restaurants, beach sunsets, lit candles) or intelligence (eyeglasses, libraries, books), in order to get the students thinking about their romantic or achievement-related goals. Later, they rated their interest in math, technology, science and engineering. The researchers found that among men, interest in these subjects was not influenced by the images they had seen. But among women, those who viewed romantic images expressed far less interest in math and science. (Interestingly,women who viewed intelligence images expressed the same level of interest as the men!)"Psychology Today went on to note the implications these types of stereotypes have for men as well, i.e., just as women may shy away from careers that are perceived as "masculine", men may shy away from careers that are perceived as "feminine", such as those within teaching,counseling and the arts.