Why so few?
AAUW, formerly known as the American Association of University Women, recently released a report titled: Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
AAUW was selected by the National Science Foundation to conduct the study outlined in the report, digging deep into the reasons and implications of the lack of women in the STEM fields. The report describes several ways in which schools (from grade school through university), communities, families, and the workplace can create a better environment to disrupt negative stereotypes associated with women in science and math.
One really cool thing (among a lot of other really cool things) was the entire chapter dedicated to spatial skills. The spatial-skills training research of Sheryl Sorby, a professor at Michigan Tech, was featured in the report. Sorby, who literally wrote the book on learning spatial visualization, identified methods for improving retention, particularly of female students, who learn these skills. Many engineering students see spatial visualization as the walk-in-the-door, take-the-test-determinant of whether or not they’ll be a good engineer. They do not necessarily realize that spatial visualization is not innate, it is learned. Sorby says:
Most engineering faculty have highly developed 3-D spatial skills and may not understand that others can struggle with a topic they find so easy. Furthermore, they may not believe that spatial skills can be improved through practice, falsely believing that this particular skill is one that a person is either “born with” or not. They don’t understand that they probably developed these skills over many years.
The report goes on to describe a plethora of other important points related to female success and retention in STEM fields. It offers a thorough list of recommendations at the end of each chapter and at the end of the report as well.
Some cool highlights of the report:
- Although women are the majority of college students, they are far less likely than their male peers to plan to major in a STEM field (page 5 of report)
- Women’s representation among tenured faculty is lower than one would expect based on the supply of female science and engineering doctoral degree recipients in recent decades (Kulis et al, 2002, from page 17 of report)
- Expose girls to successful female role models in math and science (recommendation, from page 42 of report)
- Encourage students to have a more flexible or growth mindset about intelligence (figure below, from recommendation, from page 42 of report)
- Teachers and professors can reduce reliance on stereotypes by making performance standards and expectations clear (recommendation, from page 50 of report)
- Make a female-friendly department by sponsoring a women-in-science group (recommendation, from page 65 of report)
- Conduct departmental reviews to assess the climate for female faculty (recommendation, from page 72 of report)
- Spread the word about girls’ and womens’ achievements in math and science (recommendation, from page 90 of report)
I encourage everyone to head over to AAUW’s website and download a copy of it.