My Daughter’s Experience with Math and Science
by Neil Gehrels
Women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are labeled unfeminine, a costly social label that may discourage female students from pursuing these fields. Challenges to this stereotype include feminine STEM role models, but their counterstereotypic-yet-feminine success may actually be demotivating, particularly to young girls.
• Study 1 showed that feminine STEM role models reduced middle school girls’ current math interest, self-rated ability, and success expectations relative to gender-neutral STEM role models and depressed future plans to study math among STEM-disidentified girls. These results did not extend to feminine role models displaying general (not STEM-specific) school success, indicating that feminine cues were not driving negative outcomes.
• Study 2 suggested that feminine STEM role models’ combination of femininity and success seemed particularly unattainable to STEM-disidentified girls.
The results call for a better understanding of feminine STEM figures aimed at motivating young girls.
Yes, there is a problem here and it is not solved by well-deserved recent honors to women astronomers such as Jane Luu's receipt of the Kavli Prize in Astrophysics for her co-discovery of the Kuiper Belt. Our long-standing problem was brought home to three representatives of the American Astronomical Society (Dara Norman, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, and me) who recently attended a workshop organized by AWIS (the Association for Women in Science) entitled Professional Society Workshop for Advancing Ways of Awarding Recognition in Disciplinary Societies (AWARDS) Project.
The pattern of astronomy awards is universal: women are systematically underrepresented among scholarly award winners in professional societies in science, engineering and social science (at least psychology and economics, who sent representatives to this workshop). Yet women are typically overrepresented among winners of teaching and service awards. AAS members and readers of this blog should not be surprised -- the disparities were described in the AAS Newsletter almost one year ago. The AAS Council, recognizing the problem, agreed to participate in the AWARDS project.
Dara, Chanda and I learned that a group of 7 "pioneer" societies had made significant strides toward reducing this problem by instituting some best practices recommended by AWIS. We learned that implicit bias continues to plague selection processes and that all people are subject to it. We learned that AWIS has produced a wonderful set of short training videos (half are narrated by Meg Urry, so watch them and recommend them to others, including hiring committees!). We learned that the mathematicians and statisticans have developed guidelines for avoiding implicit bias which are required reading for their selection committees. We learned how certain kinds of language trigger implicit bias -- words like "leader, dynamic, innovator" are used more often in letters for men than women. We learned that women are nominated for awards at lower rates than men.
We are reporting our findings to the AAS Council and will be writing an article for the AAS Newsletter with more details. Meanwhile, I strongly encourage readers to nominate women and underrepresented minorities for AAS awards (and since I'm also active in the American Physical Society, I will shamelessly plug them, too). You needn't be a senior scientist to make a nomination. If you are concerned that your nomination or supporting letter carries less weight than that of a senior scientist, you can summarize the arguments for a nomination in a request for assistance from a senior scientist. And if you are a senior scientist, please make and support nominations of deserving candidates.
It's been a tough few weeks in my household. First there was a proposal deadline, and hard on the heels of that, I'm about to disappear for a week for work travel.
It's hard enough managing things when I'm away for a week at a time. My husband has to pick up the slack on child care, which usually translates to taking vacation time, since day care hours generally aren't long enough for him to work a full day in between.
But what do you do if you want to go away for longer? There are institutes, schools, and fellowships of various sorts which can allow a researcher to spend months at a time at a different institution, not to mention sabbaticals. Sounds wonderful, except what happens with the kids? Since my husband can't simply up and leave his job, one or the other of us would be a single parent for the duration.
I have certainly passed up some opportunites for long-term travel such as this, precisely because of the child care issue.
So what do you do? Surely others out there have encountered this issue before. What have been your solutions? Or do I just have to wait until the kids go to college?