Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Why So Few? An Introduction


The 2010 report entitled, Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) is based on interviews with top researchers and a review of the large body of academic research literature on gender and science. It presents eight separate research findings on the nurture side of the nature-nurture debate.  Each of these findings demonstrates that social and environmental factors clearly contribute to the underrepresentation of women in science and engineering.

The research findings are organized into three areas: (1) how social and environmental factors shape girls’ achievements and interest in math and science; (2) how the climate of university science and engineering departments affect women’s - both students and faculty - experience in STEM fields; and (3) the continuing role of bias in limiting women’s success in STEM in education and the workplace.

The report is available as a FREE pdf download. The findings are also organized as either a long-  or short-version ppt where all the hard work (including a suggested script) has been done for you. Perhaps you are inclined to take my advice and give either a lunch talk on women in astronomy issues or a twofer colloquium series, one on science and one on women-in-science. If, however, you do not have a talk prepared or are not sure what you want to talk about, these ppts are the perfect place to start.

I also understand that not everyone has the time or inclination to read through this long (134 pages) and detailed report. However, I think the findings are SO IMPORTANT(!) that I am willing to spend a bit of my summer vacation breaking the report up into bite-size pieces suitable for posting on the blog. So watch this space!

Here is some introductory information (text from the ppt), just to whet your appetite:

We all know that there are biological differences between men and women, but as yet, there is no clear link between any of these differences and the underrepresentation of women in science and engineering. In contrast, we have a lot of evidence that culture can make a difference.  For example, an ongoing study of mathematically precocious youth finds that thirty years ago there were 13 boys for every girl who scored above 700 on the SAT math exam at age 13; today that ratio has shrunk to about 3:1. So that’s a shift from 13:1 boys to girls to 3:1 boys to girls in just 30 years.  This rapid rise in the number of girls identified as “mathematically gifted” suggests that culture, specifically how we cultivate math and science achievement in girls, makes a difference in girls’ achievement in these areas. 

Supporting women and girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics has been a part of AAUW’s mission since its founding in 1881. Throughout its history, AAUW has encouraged women to study and work in these traditionally male fields, investing millions of dollars in graduate fellowships and grants and engaging in research, programming and advocacy to break through the barriers for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.