Girls begin their education with the same potential as boys, but by the end of high school, their excitement and potential in sciences has been stifled. Why is that? Part of it is that girls can absorb unconscious stereotypes that tell them what paths they should follow. They are exposed to subliminal messages that steer them away from the STEAM fields of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.
Girls make determinations about their math and science aptitude as early as 2nd and 3rd grade, according to research, such as that in “Math-Gender Stereotypes in Elementary School Children,” a 2014 report by the University of Washington.
Girls and boys perform equally well in math and science while in elementary school. But the reactions to their making mistakes or getting poor grades tend to be more discouraging than the ones boys receive when they similarly struggle. Girls can tend to be steered away from the subject. Maybe they’re told math just isn’t for them. In my research, I have talked with many women who were discouraged from pursuing math by poor grades, chauvinistic adults, or an ingrained belief that they’d do better in so-called “softer” or easier subjects or in “helping” professions.
By their teens, girls may lack the confidence to push forward in math and science. They are often discouraged. They may lack a mentor. Chances are, they’ve never met a woman engineer or woman working in technology. Of U.S. teens surveyed, just 7 percent of girls intended to work in science, engineering, and technology, compared to 17 percent of boys.
Research show thats girls tend to defer to boys in class, even when they know as much. Their body language is hesitant. When they do raise their hands, it’s often timidly. They don’t get called on. By now there are even fewer girls, and those who remain can feel intimidated and believe that they don’t belong in the sciences.
Where did these young women learn this behavior, and how could anyone break through? The question disturbed me.
“The men have two qualities that most women lack,” says Bruce Porter, chairman of the Computer Science Department at the University of Texas at Austin. “They speak out with confidence, even when it’s unwarranted. And they have Teflon baked into their fiber. When they’re mistaken, when they get a critique that would devastate most women, the men don’t take it personally. They bounce right along and keep going.” Porter believes that the confidence gap begins early in girls’ lives, and that we must intervene earlier.
That’s one of the reasons I started VentureLab: to help girls learn that confidence early on. What kind of preconceptions do you see that affect the girls in your life? And how are the girls reacting? Thank you for sharing.