By EMMA DRAKE, the USA
While women make up nearly half of the general workforce, they represent only a quarter of the STEM workforce (Beede et al. 2011). While there are undoubtedly many reasons for this bias, this research is looking to determine causes at the beginning of the path, in students, and their math and science development within this stage.
Introduction and Predictions
The focus of this research is to identify early causes leading to the underrepresentation of women in STEM careers. Specifically, this research will focus on what interest and understanding of STEM exists in the midst of a child’s K-12 years that leads to either a positive or a negative classroom experience and thus opportunity, in math and science. To give some background: while women make up nearly half of the general workforce, they represent only a quarter of the STEM workforce (Beede et al. 2011). Additionally, women earn 20 to 30 percent of top STEM degrees (Diekman, Brown, Johnston & Clark 2010). This is concerning for several reasons. For instance, the lack of female participation leads to a disproportionate number of women missing out on opportunities presented in STEM careers, like higher pay. Women in STEM, on average, earn 33 percent more than women in non-STEM careers (Beede et al. 2011). Thus, the disproportionate number of women not in STEM miss out on the pay benefits STEM careers potentially offer.
While there are undoubtedly many reasons for this bias, this research is looking to determine causes at the beginning of the path, in students, and their math and science development within this stage. What is causing girls to shy away from pursuing STEM paths and careers in the future? In this study, two separate studies will be performed, one focusing on math classrooms and the other on science classrooms. Williamston Middle School sixth-grade students (of both genders) will be surveyed regarding their interest in math and science fields. This includes the student’s overall interest in the subject, self-perception in math and science (i.e. is this a subject I am good at?), identification with STEM as individuals and as a gender, ideas on STEM’s role in society and making a difference, and the financial importance and opportunity in STEM fields. Students will receive an interest “score” based on the answers given. Following the survey, students’ class participation, defined as a student raising his or her hand or shouting out in class, will be observed in two separate classrooms, one math and one science. From this, classroom experience (based on participation) can be compared to interest level in STEM in both genders. This research has the potential to produce information that could identify a cause-and-effect pattern (interest and participation) that is leading to girls not continuing on STEM paths. This is important because if causes for gender bias, in example interest and classroom participation, can be identified early on, countermeasures can subsequently be put in place to support girls continuing in STEM.
The key independent variable in this study is students’ interest in math and science as school subjects. Within this are possible causes for this disinterest: (1) students’ perceived ability in math and science, (2) identification with STEM as an individual and as a gender, (3) students’ enjoyment of math and science classes, (4) students’ ideas on STEM in society (what goals do STEM paths fulfill), and (5) students’ goals and definitions of “success” (i.e. helping others or making lots of money). The key dependent variable is classroom experience based on participation. Participation was examined in regard to interest and gender. The phenomenon being explored is the lack of girls interested in math and science and STEM related careers, and on a broader scale, the vast underrepresentation of women in the STEM workforce. The hypothesis states that girls will show a lower interest “score,” due to a lower perceived ability and identification with math and science, along with personal goals not conducive with STEM career stereotypes. In addition, students with lower interest scores will show less participation in the classroom, leading to a seemingly less fulfilling math and science experience.
This research study is limited to its environment; results collected from the Williamston community do not necessarily reflect theoretical results on a larger scale. In addition, gauging student’s interests and opinions along with classroom experience does not necessarily explain gender bias in STEM paths, but it is one possible explanation. This study is composed of two samples, a math classroom and a science classroom. Because the studies will be based on different subjects, there will be confounding variables, like the particular classroom dynamic or individual student personalities. Thus, the math and science experiments can not be directly compared, but the relation between interest and participation can be within each experiment.
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields continue to face a huge disparity between the number of men versus women in the workforce. While some causes are known, there are many unknown causes leading to the bias against the number of women working in these fields. This study examined adolescent interest and participation in math and science courses as a potential early cause leading to a lack of female participation in pursuing STEM paths and careers. Cluster samples of all students from a sixth-grade math class (n=27) and all students from a sixth-grade science class (n=25) were used in this study. Each student, classified as either male or female, was asked to complete a survey evaluating their interest in either math or science. Each student was then observed for three class periods to evaluate class participation (defined as either hand-raising or shouting out). Interest and participation scores were then computed and compared to identify a potential connection between interest and participation in male and female subjects. The math study identified an inverse relationship between interest and participation. While female students had a higher average interest score (3.88) than male students (3.78), female students had a much lower average participation score (1.39) versus male students (3.69). The science study showed very little difference in interest between male (3.96) and female (3.93) students. Again, male students showed a higher participation rate (6.21) than female students (2.35). These results show a possible correlation between female students’ lack of willingness to participate in early level math and science courses, where they are showing equal or increased interest compared to their male counterparts, and a later lack of female participation in pursuing STEM related careers.
Diekman, Amanda B., Brown, Elizabeth R., Johnston, Amanda M., & Clark, Emily K. (2010). Seeking Congruity Between Goals and Roles: A New Look at Why Women Opt Out of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Courses. Psychological Science. Retrieved from http://pss.sagepub.com/content/21/8/1051.short
This article discusses goal orientation as an explanation for the underrepresentation of women in STEM. The researchers hypothesized that women’s desires to fulfill communal goals (working with or helping other people) impede their interest in STEM careers, which women may deem as less likely to fulfill these goals. Men, on the other hand, tend to be driven more by agentic goals (power and achievement). As gender differences have equalized in other traditionally male fields, such as medicine, women have remained underrepresented in STEM fields. To test their theory of communal goals influencing men’s and women’s interests in STEM fields, the researchers compared goal endorsement along with gender differences in self-efficacy, encouragement to pursue STEM careers, and cultural stereotypes. They accomplished this by selecting 207 women and 153 men with a median age of 19. These participants measured their personal goal endorsement, career interest, and self-efficacy, in addition to their math and science experiences. The results showed that STEM careers are, in fact, thought to impede communal goals. Therefore, increased endorsement of communal goals leads to negative STEM interest. Since women endorse communal goals more strongly than men, this leads to negative STEM interest in women.
This relates to my research as I am searching for the reasons for bias in STEM fields. Goal orientation is one explanation that I could further research. I could replicate a similar study at the middle school level regarding interest in possible future careers (STEM or not) in comparison with goal orientation. This research is interesting because it presents a lesser-known explanation for gender bias in STEM. However, I found the article difficult to comprehend and lacking in explanation while describing the methods used.
Miller, D. I., Eagly, A. H., & Linn, M. C. (2015). Women’s Representation in Science Predicts National Gender-Science Stereotypes: Evidence From 66 Nations. Journal of Educational Psychology.
This study explored the relationship between women’s representation in STEM fields and explicit and implicit stereotype in 66 nations. The study was comprised of a voluntary-response Internet test in which 350,000 participants elected to participate in a gender-science test on the website Project Implicit. The study focused on gender-science stereotypes, which are associations that connect science with men over women. The researchers based their hypotheses off of previous research that found that exposure to successful women scientists and mathematicians can weaken gender-STEM stereotypes, and that stereotypes change based on repeated observation of different social groups (women, people of color, etc.) in stereotypically role-based activities. The researchers studied explicit gender-science stereotypes by having participants rate their association between science and men or women, which measures the amount of stereotype participants openly feel and will admit. They then studied implicit gender-science stereotypes by measuring how quickly participants associated science with males. Two tests were presented where words such as “daughter” or “wife” were grouped with words such as “science” or “engineer”. Participants pressed one key for “male” words and another for “female” words. One test was stereotypical, where the same key was pressed for “science” words and “male” words, while the other was counterstereotypical, in which the same key was pressed for “science” words and “female” words. The results were clear: both the explicit and implicit tests showed strong associations of science with men. The results also showed that “repeated counterstereotypic exposure is critical to changing implicit associations between science and men” (Miller, Eagly, Linn, 2015).
This article relates to my research as another possible cause for gender bias in STEM fields. It strongly explores the roles of society and nationwide stereotypes in shaping the workforce for scientists and mathematicians. I could use this information in my research by performing a similar test with K-12 students in the community to explore the prevalence of stereotype. This could be coupled with information about students’ interests in and opinions on STEM careers to look for a connection between stereotype and interest. I found this study to be extensive and well performed and I believe testing for both explicit and implicit stereotype added to the value of the research.
Beede, D., Julian T., Langdon., McKittrick G., Khan Beethika., & Doms, M. (2011). Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation. U. S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration. Retrieved from http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1964782
This summary outlines the underrepresentation of women’s participation in STEM. Women represent less than 25 percent of STEM careers despite holding almost 50% of all jobs in the U.S. economy, a statistic that has held close to constant for the past decade. This means that half as many women are working in STEM fields as would be expected based on the overall workforce. Additionally, women hold a disproportionate number of STEM degrees, and are less likely to work in a STEM field even with a degree: 40 percent of men with a STEM degree work in the field, compared to 26 percent of women. Within the STEM workforce, women’s participation varies among fields. Women are best represented in in physical and life sciences jobs, while only one of seven engineers are female. Women are also twice as likely as men to work in education and healthcare. As for earnings, STEM workers earn more than those in a non-STEM career, with women earning 33 percent more than their non-stem counterparts. The wage gap is smaller in STEM fields, but still clearly present: women earn 86 cents for every dollar earned by a man.
This summary relates to my research in that these statistics show a clear need for further understanding the lack of female participation in STEM. My research is aiming to pinpoint specific causes or explanations for this underrepresentation. I will use this information to examine discrepancies within STEM fields (i.e. life sciences versus engineering). Additionally, it will be used to prove a need for further understanding the discrepancy. I found this study to be concise, informative, and focused. There could have been more detail in the distribution of female participation throughout STEM fields, but overall it offered a clear perspective on the current STEM workforce.
Cvencek D., Kapur B., & Meltzoff A. N. (2015). Math achievement, stereotypes, and math self-concepts among elementary-school students in Singapore. Learning and Instruction.
This study explored the effects of stereotypes connecting math to males on the academic performance of 1st, 3rd, and 5th graders. The researchers hypothesized that this stereotype could be contributing to the underrepresentation of girls interested in STEM careers, based on identification and interest in math and science. In this study, the participants were elementary school students from Singapore, a top-achieving country in math. Students were tested on gender identity, math-gender stereotype (how the child connects math and gender), and math-self concept (how the child connects with math) to look for how each affects the child’s math performance. To test implicit math-gender stereotype, gender identity, and math self-concept, participants were given the Child Implicit Association Test, based on the idea that stereotypically similar ideas (i.e. math and boys) are easier to group than counterstereotypical ideas. To test these measures explicitly, participants were shown two pictures of a boy and girl and asked to identify which was more like themselves for the gender identity measure, and which liked to do math more to test for math-gender stereotype. To measure math self-concept, participants were asked whether they identified more with a picture of a student reading or solving a math problem. The students then took an achievement test in order to compare the students’ math-gender stereotype and math-self concept with achievement.
The results showed that boys were identified more positively with math than girls were; both genders said boys like to do math more, showing identification of math with boys. As for math-self concept, boys associated themselves with math more than girls did. Both boys and girls performed well on the math achievement test. Researchers determined that implicit math-gender stereotype related to math-self concept, meaning that strong math-gender stereotypes led to stronger implicit math-self concepts for boys and weaker concepts for girls. From this, the researchers concluded that students’ achievement was positively correlated with their implicit math-gender stereotypes.
This study relates to my research because it examines the effect of stereotype as early as elementary school to determine not only its existence but the effect it has on girls being interested in mathematics. I can use this research to conduct a smaller-scale test on elementary students to look for the connection between math-gender stereotype, math-self concept, and math achievement. This research is extensive and produced clear and interesting results. I like that the researchers compared the variables (gender identity, gender-math stereotype, math-self concept, and math achievement) against each other in different ways to find connections. I found that the mathematics behind determining correlation could have been explained more thoroughly, but the researchers summarized their results well.
Hawkins, B. D. (2015). Sideline Girls in STEM. National Education Association Today.
This article explores the effects of teacher encouragement for girls taking an interest in STEM. Even though more girls are taking STEM classes, the gender gap in higher education and the STEM workforce has remained consistent. Teacher implicit bias and subtle messages have been shown to have an effect on a girl’s success in STEM, and thus her interest in pursuing a STEM field. By calling on motivated and outgoing students teachers leave out students who miss out on STEM opportunities based on their identification with these fields. Research shows that girls are both capable and interested in math, but the numbers of women in the field do not add up. The problem from this to solve in the education system is the effects of teacher bias on girls’ motivation to pursue STEM in higher education or a career.
This article relates to my research as teacher bias being a possible reason for underrepresentation of women in STEM. I can use this information in my research to study the effect of implicit bias on elementary, middle, and high school students by seeing if participation and achievement widen as students’ age increases or based on higher-stereotype classroom settings. This article was brief but effective in outlining the danger of implicit bias on girls’ performances in STEM classes, their desire to participate in these courses, and an interest in a STEM career.
Pomerantz, E. M., Altermatt, E. R., & Saxon, J. L. (2002). Making the Grade but Feeling Distressed: Gender Differences in Academic Performance and Internal Distress. Journal of Educational Psychology.
This study dissected the connection between students’ performance in school and their internal distress (anxiety, depression, and worry), along with their self-evaluation in the four core school subjects: math, science, language arts, and social studies. Girls have been shown to outperform boys academically across all school subjects. However, girls are also far more subject to experiencing internal distress in regard to failure. Girls tend to see achievements as diagnostic of their abilities, whereas boys use self-confidence to deny negative feedback. Additionally, girls rate themselves as less competent in stereotypically masculine subject areas, specifically math and science. In this study, researchers studied elementary school children in grades 4-6 in regard to their academic performance and internal distress. To test for academic performance, the researchers collected information on participants’ grades in each of the four core subjects. Testing for internal distress was split into several parts. Self-evaluation was measured by having participants rate their competence in each subject. To determine self-worth, participants were asked to identify with a picture of a child either pleased or displeased with his or herself. To test for worry, the students indicated how much they worried about their performance in school on a scale of 1-4. Similarly, the students were tested for anxiety and depression.
The results showed that girls outperformed boys across the board in school subjects. However, girls also evaluated themselves more negatively than boys did, specifically in math and science. Additionally, girls were found more prone to internalizing symptoms: worrying, anxiety, and depression, which were likely to increase over time. Interestingly, the gender gap in internal distress between girls and boys was more than twice of the effect size of academic performance or self-evaluation. Girls performing poorly experience the most vulnerability, but girls across the board experience the most internal distress and view their self-worth significantly more negatively than boys.
This article is key to my research because it offers a prime example of a problem girls face in school (internal distress) and how this affects their choices later on. Because girls have anxiety about their performances early in their education, in addition to a low self-worth in math and science, they may be less likely to pursue these theoretically more challenging subjects in higher education or a career. Even though girls outperform boys in math and science, they still rate themselves as less competent than their male counterparts do. This may offer an explanation as to why fewer women enter STEM college and career paths. I can expand upon this in my own research by performing a smaller scale experiment on the effects of internal distress on students’ performance and interest in their math and science classes, of both genders. Additionally, I would like to see how these effects change over time, as internal distress factors change, too, and see if the gender gap widens over time. I found this study to be very well done and the report to be clear and detail-oriented. I liked that the report focused on the challenges faced by both male and female students, and specifically how it pointed out that while girls outperform boys academically, they are not necessarily at an advantage in the classroom. Internal distress is worth further researching as a key factor in why fewer women are participating in STEM fields.
Moss-Racusin C. A., Dovidio, J. F., Brescoll, V. L., Graham, M. J., & Handelsman J. (2012). Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved from www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1211286109
This research explores underlying bias against women in faculty of academic science, and how it affects women’s participation in science. The research investigated faculty gender bias in academic science fields and its effect on the gender gap in students and workers in STEM fields. To test implicit bias in faculty, the researchers had faculty members of both genders assess the job application of an undergraduate science student interested in a science laboratory manager position. Half of the members analyzed the application of “Jennifer” while the other half analyzed the application of “John”. The applications were identical apart from the name, which implied gender. Faculty graded the applicant on their competence, suggested a starting salary offer, and stated the extent to which they would be willing to mentor the potential applicant. The results showed that the applicant’s gender was significant: the faculty graded the female applicant as less competent and less hirable, offered less mentorship, and gave a mean starting salary nearly $4,000 lower than the identical male applicant. It is important to note the researchers emphasized that the faculty members’ biases were implicit, as opposed to active hostility toward women, caused by lasting cultural gender stereotypes.
These results are significant because they show a continuing need for understanding and combating inequality in STEM, in this case fields of academic science. This implicit bias is important to address because suggesting to females that they are less competent and less likely to be hired may cause them to stray from a STEM related career path. This leads to a continuation of the underrepresentation of women in science and math careers. This information relates to my research in that underlying faculty bias may discourage young women from pursuing STEM careers as they progress through their education. Thus, implicit gender bias in STEM faculty members is one cause for lack of women participation. I am not planning on performing a similar experiment, as this focused on undergraduate students pursuing a STEM career, and their superiors, and I am focusing on causes of gender bias in STEM that start in K-12 students. This research was well done, and I liked that it addressed the claim that gender bias no longer exists by clarifying that most research now focuses on the implicit bias caused by pervasive cultural stereotypes.
Shen, H. (2013). Mind the Gender Gap. Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science. Retrieved from
This article overviews the general discrimination women are still facing today in STEM. The bias faced today is subtle, but present, and drives women away from pursuing STEM careers. Qualified women dropping out of STEM careers leads to an incomplete collection of potential knowledge. This article states several causes for women not participating in STEM, including lack of role models, lower self-confidence, family choices (women see STEM careers as less compatible for raising a family), and gender discrimination. This discrimination includes being seen as less competent for job opportunities, disparities in grant funding, and a pay gap; full science and engineering professors face an 8% pay gap. The article emphasizes that although gender bias in STEM has made significant strides, there is still more to be done to learn about the lack of female participation.
This article is relevant to my research in that it highlights several key reasons women opt out of STEM. My research is specifically focused on early discrimination K-12 students face while learning and determining their own competence in math and science, but I believe discrimination in higher education and the workplace is an extension of early discrimination. This article again talks about the prevalence of subtle gender bias, which I would like to further research the effects of in K-12 students. This article gave a good overview of the gender gap and several key reasons it exists, which is valuable because it combines research from other studies, like the faculty bias study above, to lay out a clear picture of the problem. I also like how it addressed the strides that have been made while still pushing for further equality in the future.
In this study, sixth-grade students from Williamston Middle School, from one math class and one science class, were first given a survey regarding their interest in STEM fields: their perceived abilities, identification as individuals and as a gender with math and science, enjoyment of math and science courses, and personal goal orientation with STEM careers’ societal role. This survey produced a STEM interest “score” for each student. Following this, students were observed for three class periods in their math and science classes, focusing on whole-class participation. This was defined by the student either raising his or her hand or shouting out during class instruction. From this, a participation score was given (simply the number of times participation in these forms occurred). Students’ interest scores and participation scores were then compared to look for a connection between STEM interest and classroom participation, which then leads to a positive or negative math or science experience. Interest questions were broken down into five categories: overall interest, self-perception in the subject, gender-perception, the role of the subject in society (humanities) and the importance and relevance of finances in the subject. It is important to note that two studies were conducted, one in a math classroom and one in a science classroom.
In weeks one and two, the interest survey was drafted and the point system created. In addition, math and science teachers at Williamston Middle School were contacted with information about the research project and a request to have their class take part in the experiment. Administration was also contacted regarding permission details. As teachers elected their classes to either participate or not, the two samples were identified and selected. Following this, students from the two samples were given information and permission slips to take home to parents in order to participate.
In weeks three and four, the surveys were given to students in the sample. From students’ answers, average interest scores were calculated for each question, each category of question (direct interest, self-perception, and gender perception), each student, and each gender in both the math and science samples.
In weeks five and six, students were observed repeatedly in their respective math and science classes for participation. Participation was recorded by cumulating the number of times the student raised his or her hand or shouted out. Participation for all male and female science and math students was averaged to find a participation score for each of the four groups.
In weeks seven and eight, the data were examined. Specifically, interest scores and participation scores were compared between each group to look for connections between student interest and class participation in both genders. Each study produced results showing the correlation between students’ interest scores and participation scores in each gender. These results contradicted the hypothesis that girls will show a lesser interest and lesser participation in math and science classes, producing a less fulfilling math and science experience.
Through observation of sixth-grade math and science student interest and participation, a greater gender disparity was shown in participation than interest. Although male and students showed nearly equal interest in both the math and science studies, male students consistently participated at higher levels than female students. When broken down further, interest categories (interest, self-perception, gender-perception, humanities, and finance) showed distinctions between male and female interest. Additionally, while male participation dominated in both hand-raising and shouting-out, greater disparity was shown in male and female students shouting-out answers in class.
Male and female composite interest scores, calculated by averaging each student’s answer (1-5) to each question on the interest survey, and then averaged together by gender, suggest similar interest levels between male and female sixth-grade math students (3.78 vs. 3.88, respectively).
When divided into categories, more distinction was shown between male and female student interest. Female students showed higher interest in questions regarding overall interest (4.14 vs. 3.87), gender-perception (3.36 vs 3.21), and humanities (4.39 vs 4.27), while male students showed higher interest in self-perception (4.05 vs 3.87). Male and female students showed similar interest in financial importance in mathematics (4.42 vs. 4.41, respectively).
Higher overall participation, calculated by taking each student’s cumulative participation in hand-raising and shouting-out for the three observations and averaging the two sums, then averaged by gender, showed higher participation in male students than female students (3.69 vs. 1.39).
In the science class, male and female composite interest scores, calculated by averaging each student’s answer (1-5) to each question on the interest survey, and then averaged together by gender, suggest nearly identical interest levels between male and female sixth-grade science students (3.96 vs. 3.94, respectively).
Again with the science class data, when divided into categories, more distinction was shown between male and female student interest. Female students showed higher interest in questions regarding gender-perception (3.73 vs 3.61) and humanities (4.48 vs 4.21), while male students showed higher interest in overall interest (3.99 vs. 3.89), self-perception (3.78 vs. 3.50), and financial importance in science careers (4.53 vs. 4.40).
Higher overall participation, calculated by taking each student’s cumulative participation in hand-raising and shouting-out for the three observations and averaging the two sums, then averaged by gender, showed higher participation in male students than female students (6.21 vs. 2.35).
Discussion and Conclusions
The hypothesis stated that girls will show a lower interest score, due to a lower perceived ability and identification with math and science, along with personal goals not conducive with STEM career stereotypes. In addition, these female students with lower interest scores will show less participation in the classroom, leading to a seemingly less fulfilling math and science experience. The results disputed the first part of this hypothesis, as male and female students showed very similar interest scores in math and science. However, even though they were approximately as interested as male students, female students showed less participation in the classroom. The research did not show a direct connection between interest and participation in sixth-grade math and science students.
Specifically, slightly lower female interest scores in the finance category and higher interest scores in humanities reflect the research done in “Seeking Congruity Between Goals and Roles” on goal orientation (Diekman, Brown, Johnston & Clark 2010). Women tend to focus on communal goals, in this research the humanities interest questions, or helping others. Men tend to focus on agentic goals, such as financial success, reflected in this research by higher male interest scores in finance. Additionally, the results of these studies reflect the research done in “Sideline Girls in STEM” discussing lack of female participation in STEM despite showing interest in the subjects (Hawkins 2015). Hawkins’ research also questions why capable and interested female students are lacking numbers in the workforce. This study reflects approximately equal interest and lesser participation as stated in Hawkins’ study.
These research studies were performed on a very small sample, and should be repeated on much larger samples of the population of adolescent math and science students. Despite this shortcoming, this research opens the question of the role of whole class participation in female students in STEM education. If female students are as interested as male students, why are they not participating in class? Consequently, how does this lack of participation affect female students as they continue in their math and science education? Subsequent research could focus in on the causes and effects of lower female participation in classes. Additionally, student interest and participation could be tracked to identify the changes male and female students face in their STEM education. In researching adolescent interest and participation in STEM subjects, participation was identified as showing greater disparity between male and female students. Female lack of participation as a possible early cause for gender bias in STEM should be further explored.
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