Why are girls, in general, less attracted to STEM degrees?

Gender equality in science, we are not there yet

Mónica Vara Pérez · 01-09-2020 10:00 · Gender equality in science Science Chronicles

It is a fact that the percentage of girls enrolled (and graduated) in engineering, mathematics, physics, geography… are much lower than in biology, biotechnology or chemistry, for example. And these trends are further perpetuated later in life. Tania highlighted one interesting fact withdrawn from French research: the scientific field where the company is specialized will greatly condition gender equality. For example, in L’Oréal (cosmetic industry) 70% of the researchers are women whereas in Renault (automotive industry) only 15% of the white-collar engineers are women.

But why? While trying to understand the origin of this stereotype, Daniel brought up an interesting study from Breda & Napp from Princeton University approaching women’s lack of preference for math-related degrees. For example, and assuming that some of our career choices are done based on what we like and that we tend to like what we are good at, if a girl scores 8/10 in math and 8.5/10 in reading and a boy scores 8/10 in math and 7.5/10 in reading, the boy will be more likely to follow a math-based degree because that is the discipline he is better at while the girl will not be encouraged to follow a math-associated path.

Regarding this topic, our speakers highlighted the importance of role-models and high school orientation. Most children do not know any scientist in person, they do not truly grasp what implies studying (for example) engineering, on what you would work as a scientist, the differences among scientific fields… If they do not know it, why are they going to choose it? If children in high school would have the opportunity to talk to (women) scientists, get a glimpse of how their daily life looks, how they approach scientific challenges, have a bit of hands-on science… many more scientific vocations would grow in youngsters (especially in girls). Moreover, stereotypes do not appear when we are adults, they are imprinted when we are little. In this regard, additional unconscious bias training for parents and teachers might also help to open their minds towards STEM degrees, especially for girls.




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