Discussion 2 (Wk. 5): Women in STEM (by Erin Tannenbaum)

RosieTech-1024x681To take part in this discussion, please first read some (or all) of the following articles:


“In the United States, girls at all grade levels now perform on par with boys on the standardized mathematics tests required of all students” (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2009).

According to the Oregon Department of Education Database for the 2012-2013 school year, Portland school districts have shown that in grades 3 through 8, the percentage of young women who “meet or exceed” mathematical standards is higher than that of young men in grades 5, 6, 7 and 8. In grades 3 and 4, this percentage in young women is less than that of young men by only 0.5%.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) found that women make up 46% of the total workforce but hold only 24% of jobs in technical or STEM fields.

In the past, it was a widely accepted belief that math skills are innate and that boys were more capable then females in their mathematical endeavors. This belief was supported by the fact that a noticeable gender disparity did exist in mathematical performance between young men and women. However, this gender gap has closed in recent years but “gender differences persist in the number of students who take advanced math courses and who pursue math related careers” (Gunderson, Ramirez, Levine, and Beilock, 2011). Consequently, women are still underrepresented in STEM fields.

Think about your experience as a child learning new math concepts.


  • Have you had experience with gender-dependent performance expectations?
  • As a female, did you ever feel like your parents or teachers had lower expectations in your math performance?
  • As a male, did you ever experience more pressure to succeed and to “have a knack for it”? For everyone: If you do have a passion for mathematics or feel like you have excelled in STEM subjects, what do you think contributed to this interest?

Some believe that attitude plays a role in math performance.

  • What would you say to someone who argued that these attitudes, which include math anxiety, math-self concepts, and expectations for success or failure in mathematics, can be influenced by parents, teachers or other students
  • What do you think we can do to encourage young women to take advanced mathematics and prepare themselves to pursue STEM careers?

What can you do to help women in STEM?

  • Give your support to the American Association of University Women (AAUW): “The nation’s leading voice promoting equity and education for women and girls”. http://www.aauwpdx.org/
  • Work to understand your own anxieties by educating yourself in Mathematics! https://www.khanacademy.org/
  • • Set up a STEM club or join an existing one to learn more!
  • • Donate to the Edge (Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education) Program at http://www.edgeforwomen.org/

9 thoughts on “Discussion 2 (Wk. 5): Women in STEM (by Erin Tannenbaum)

  1. I don’t remember having any situations regarding performance expectations in my school experience but I do remember joining a female math and science club in middle school. I don’t currently remember what it was called but I do remember that we researched female scientists, went on field trips, got tutoring help with our classes and did experiments. I didn’t realize at that point that girls being interested in science and math and doing well in those classes was something that wasn’t expected to happen.
    I think that it is important to provide all students with an equal expectation of success. If parents and teachers provide all students with the expectation that they will do well in math and support them all on an equal level from a young age then they will grow up always with the idea that they can be successful. If parents and teachers are supportive then other students will also be supportive and there will no longer be this gender stigma around certain subjects. If we didn’t demonstrate these ideas to children from a young age they would have no idea that these ideas had ever existed.
    In order to encourage female students to pursue careers in math and science I think we can provide them with the resources to be able to learn about these areas of study. I think again that starting at a young age with students we will be more successful. Also clubs and activities like, the one I participated in that showed girls that science can be fun and they can be successful. If they find the interest at a young age they will be more likely to follow through and continue pursuing it. Also I think that scholarships are always a good way to entice high school students. Even though it seems like buying them out it is easy to get a soon to be indebted college student’s attention by offering them money.

  2. As a child my mother was super encouraging about science and tried to convince me to go to school for engineering. Both my sister and I excelled at math, especially my sister. She was in third year calculus by the time she entered college. While engineering never interested me, science did. Both my sister and I are going for non-science or math related fields. I feel a huge reason for this is the lack of female role models and also the expectation of having to be a female in a male dominated profession (I am refering to engineering with this one). I’m not saying that the work environment would be hostile by any means, it’s just that you would feel less like you belong than if you entered any other field as a woman. I think role models are the best way to get females interested into an occupation. One of the articles made a comment that just because females are good at math, doesn’t mean they like it. This is the next step after instilling math-confidence. The science field has many female rolemodels, like Marie Curie, Jane Goodall and Rosalind Franklin. Women mathematicians exist and there has been many important ones in history, such as Ada Lovelace, who is considered the worlds first computer programer. Not even the first female computer programer, but of both sexes. If she was a household name, then maybe females would have interest sparked from an early age. I also agree with what Carlie said above about clubs. If females are with other females doing math based things, it becomes more normalized in their minds.

  3. I don’t recall having any gender-dependent performance expectations during my school experiences. All the schools of which I attended, Elementary, Middle, and High School, seemed balanced in regards to the amount of girls and boys taking and thriving in math and science courses. As a student, my parents and teachers expected me to achieve academically; in fact, failure was not an option for my siblings and I. And of course, my level of determination to succeed was set a little above my peers, especially at a young age.

    As a female, I remember growing up and particularly enjoying science-based courses. I was obsessed with Mt. St. Helens and rocks in Elementary school. In fact, I wanted to be a geologist up until my 8th grade year. That is when things took a turn and I became more so interested in health and fitness; at least, enough to make it the basis of my current career. However, I did immensely struggle with mathematics until high school. This struggle in mathematics frustrated my parent’s, as they were both academically successful. They got me a tutor, asked my school counselor to put me in a study group, and even went as far allowing me to get my P.E. class waived due to my competitive gymnastics schedule so I could take two math classes my 8th grade year. Not only did it get me out of P.E. but also by the time I was a sophomore in high school, I was taking honors and AP math courses. In response to if I, as a female, encountered parents and teachers lowering their mathematical standards for me, the answer is no, I did not. Instead, I was pushed harder and my expectations stayed the same. I had to catch-up and learn the material, or I would fail, which, as mentioned above, was not an option in my family.

    I agree with Carlie, in that we should provide all students with equal expectations for all subjects. By creating a gender stigma based around the concept that females are better fit to excel in writing and arts and males in science and math, then we are limiting the success of these students in the areas that may be interests and we are taking away career options in a growing job market of which include becoming a mathematician or scientist. Placing a norm around what girls can and can’t do or what boys can and can’t do is only hurting our society, especially when taking into consideration the Race to the Top concept. With the race to the top being enforced in our academic settings today, these academic gender stigmas are only hurting our countries ability to succeed in the race.

  4. I had mixed experiences with math/science and the expectations of my teachers in school. I had several teachers (women included) in elementary school who favored male students, especially in math. I attended an all women’s high school, so we were all encouraged to excel in math/science; in fact, that was a focus and a priority.

    With my own children, I really strive to use math to talk about our daily lives so that it feels more natural and connected. I can’t say enough about PBS Kids new(ish) show Peg + Cat (http://pbskids.org/peg/), just one example of media for young kids that encourages young women (and men) to be engineers, scientists, etc. I wonder if some of the current alienation that young people (boys or girls) feel in relationship to math is more about the methods of instruction and the lack of connection? Future math teachers, thoughts?

    • Zapoura,

      Although I am not seeking a career in mathematical education, I am studying to become a health and fitness teacher at the high school level, and throughout my studies while taking education classes I have noticed a vast amount of gender bias and gender discrimination, not just in math, but in other subjects as well.

      Recently I volunteered at a high school where I was placed in a health class. While volunteering at the school, I noticed male discrimination from the female teacher. During my time of assistance, the class was covering the sexual health unit, and it was almost as though the teacher was judging the male students for their inability to comprehend the seriousness of the subject as well as was judging them for their inappropriate decisions made in regards to sexual health. However, I feel as though she saw the females as helpless victims who needed more education on how to avoid sexual transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies and thus tended to them more seriously.

      In regards to your comment on instructional methods and lack of connection, I believe this has a large impact on a student’s success. I know that as a teacher, connecting student interests to the subject being taught is a highly important factor to student success and understanding. Also, being able to teach in different ways that tend to a student’s needs is an instructional method that is found to be beneficial to student success as well. I think that when it comes to teaching a subject as intricate as math, it is important to tend to the class as a whole to avoid gender bias, favoritism, or discrimination of success in a topic based off gender. I feel that the desire to succeed should come from within the student and that the student should seek help in a subject if it is needed because they should be able to recognize the fact that they cannot understand the material by the way it is being taught in class.

  5. Growing up I can’t remember a time where there were noticeable gender differences in the way I was taught science and math. I felt my dad (who was an engineer and loved math and science) always encouraged my sister and I as equally as he did my brother. As we got older my sister excelled in science and math and went on to get a degree in bio engineering. As for me I found I did not have an interest in it. Although i do enjoy math I know I don’t want a career in it. I followed my mum into the health and fitness, and hated science classes along the way. The commercials that encourage parents to let their girls play with tools and create science or engineering projects are great. I also like that they created science kits geared towards girls (by making them pink.) As encouraging as these are I have to agree with classmates who say we should make it gender neutral. By providing equal expectations,for kids in all subjects, as Carlie and Dakota talked about, will provide the best opportunities for children. I think placing pressure on kids and the anxiety that it can cause plays a big factor in whether kids pursue a math and science career. I think finding a way to speak to each individual child and how they learn plays a role in kids enjoying and excelling at school. For me although I have never enjoyed science classes in school, I am beginning to get excited about science as I learn more about the human body through my massage CE classes.

  6. I haven’t ever had gender-dependent performance expectations in math. Growing up, my parents wanted me to excel in school but there was never actually any pressure to do so. I always did well in math; I was a couple years ahead in school until I dropped out a few months into my Junior year.

    I enjoy math and I really love science. I’m currently working on a bachelor’s in General Science – I would have picked biology but I can get into a master’s program one year sooner with the general degree. When I was really young, I was interested in math because I found it soothing. I could listen to my favorite music, manipulate numbers and letters and get concrete, unequivocal answers.

    Only in seventh grade did I meet people for the first time who though that liking and excelling at math was uncool. I was one of only a few girls in my advanced math class. Since I liked math, I just started lying about liking it or being good at it. I didn’t talk about my class or my interest. I couldn’t keep my interest in science under wraps, and some friends made fun of me for being a nerd. I actually bonded more with guys and had very few female friends. Guys didn’t make fun of me for finding math and science interesting.

    I would absolutely agree with anyone who believed that an individual’s attitude toward math is influenced by parents, teachers, and other students. Even today, I sometimes bite my tongue about my interest in math, especially when others talk about how difficult they find it. I’m not interested in making anyone feel bad. I truly do believe that some people are better at certain things than others, though whether this is due to interest or aptitude is definitely debatable.

    I feel strange having this opinion, but why is it important that we push women into STEM careers? Personally I am incredibly interested in science and for a while could see myself pursuing a career in microbiology, but I chose to try to be a physician assistant because I couldn’t imagine myself not working closely with people. A laboratory science career doesn’t have enough human interaction and collaboration for me. I agree that it’s important that we empower women to believe that they’re as good at math as men, especially because the data says we are, but I think there shouldn’t be a push for women to join careers that don’t compel them.

  7. I personally have faced both settings in regards to gender bias in schools. The first half of my schooling was done at a private christian school where I was encouraged by my teachers to be well rounded in all of my subjects, including math and science. Then when I entered the public school system in middle school I was ahead of all my peers in all subjects,but as time went on I found myself less encouraged by my teachers to excel in certain subject, especially science and math. And by the time I graduated high school I felt discouraged by lack of knowledge in these areas, and was considering different roads for my college degree. So I think this defiantly needs to be changed. By empowering our youth to be well rounded in all their subjects, both boys and girls, could lead to a generation that takes pride in their jobs and could narrow the gap of gender discrimination within the workplace.

  8. Growing up, what I remember most is that pretty much all the math teachers I ever had were male. However, I don’t feel that any of them ever treated students differently based on gender. In seventh grade I ended up being placed in eighth grade math, which was terrifying because I didn’t know any of the students in that class. However, when I entered high school I was placed back into the regular math class for my grade level.

    At home, I had two older sisters and my parents’ one requirement regarding math was that we all had to memorize the multiplication table up to the nines. This turned out to be very useful in middle school, as my eighth grade teacher liked to hold speed competitions that revolved around multiplication. My parents and older sisters also encouraged me to take advanced math classes in high school, and some of my peers automatically assumed I was great at math due to the stereotype that Asians are good at math.

    When I was taking a gender class two terms ago, I remember reading an article about a woman who encouraged people to stop focusing on beauty when interacting with young girls. For example, instead of telling a little girl how cute she is when you first meet her, try to talk about what books/school subjects she’s interested in. This way, there is less emphasis on beauty and more emphasis on her intellect. I was really intrigued by the article, and it’s something I try to keep in mind because I believe that parents, teachers, siblings, and peers have a great influence on whether someone will be more concerned with academic success or being “pretty”. If it was the norm for girls to succeed in math and science, than I think girls would be more inclined to try and succeed in these subjects.

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