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Changing Mindsets to Promote Women and Girls in Science

June 10, 2011

Next Monday, June 13, I will be attending a symposium at the U.S. State Department called “Changing Mindsets to Promote Women and Girls in Science.”  Speakers include Assistant Secretary of State Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones, Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer, U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference Rashad Hussain, Ambassador Ufuk Gokcen, NASA Associate Director for Policy Dr. Rebecca Spyke-Gardner, AAAS Head of the Directorate for Education and Human Resources Programs Dr. Shirley Malcom, NSF’s Dr. Jong-On Hahm,  NIH Deputy Director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health, NSF Advance Program Director Dr. Kelly Mack, and many others.

The event is an outcome of the recent UN Commission on the Status of Women; it supports

 diplomatic and development efforts to empower women and girls through science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  I don’t know much more about the symposium, but I was invited by the State Department, probably because of our work on this site, and I am very excited to attend.  A panel with a similar title was held in February; video of the Changing Mindsets: New Approaches to Advance Women and Girls in Science panel can be found at the link.

What is holding women and girls back from a career in science in your country?

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 12, 2011 11:38 pm

    I think that there are a number of factors in the US that may be similar across the globe (in fact, I would find it hard to believe this isn’t the case).

    First, I think that the unfortunate phasing out of decent science classes in public school curricula across all age groups is certainly a contributing factor. …of course, this methodology, started in part because of budget cuts and further reduced due to the prevalence of state-mandated testing, affects girls/women and boys/men alike. My own experience in high-school suggests that there is a strong link between women going into STEM and the availability of challenging and worthwhile science classes. Just the other day I had a discussion with other graduate students who were shocked to find out that I took Anatomy and Physiology in high school where we got to dissect *gasp!* a mink as the “practical” part of the lab. I can’t make direct correlation, of course, but of the young women in my class who did exceptionally well (myself included), at least half of us are in a STEM-related field.

    Additionally, there may still be a significant societal norm for “acceptable” women’s vs men’s jobs, especially in certain areas of the country. Add to this the opportunity for young girls to explore science and/or the experience of knowing other women in science….I spent my formative years (pre-high-school) in a very rural town in northern California and I attribute so much of who and what I am today to the simple fact that my parents never told me “no” where my education was concerned. In fact, they pushed me to discover and pursue anything I wanted, to fulfill my passions – even if they were far-reaching, to the point where my AP US History teacher asked my mother whether I was thinking about going to college to get a degree in US History. Of course, my Mom politely told him that US History was a hobby of mine and that she was pretty sure I was going to be a scientist, “just like her father and grandfather, if you must know”…. My parents’ infinite faith in me and my ability to do whatever I wanted has totally and absolutely made me the young woman I am today — and I know that I am *SO* lucky. I also know that not everyone has this level of support, even now that there ARE women in STEM (and darn fine ones at that!).

    Lastly (for this discussion now anyway), I think that the third thing holding women and girls back from science is tied to my previous statement about societal norms. Regardless of how there is more equality in the workplace (sort of….), women still carry the most responsibility of child-bearing and child-rearing. Personally, I am feeling societal pressure because many of my college and high school friends are getting married and starting to have children and while I know I don’t have to do all of these things right-this-minute, it is still difficult for me to reconcile how hard I work, the end-result (=Ph.D., post-doc….), and the fact that my other half is 2000 miles away. And while I know that I am not the only woman in this situation, I know so many college classmates who gave up their hard-core science dreams because life would be harder all around. Or at least this is what they thought 6 or so years ago when deciding on a major. And maybe they decided this because of society, or maybe they didn’t have a father who actively took part in raising his kids like mine did, but maybe, just maybe, this is another unfortunate problem.

    In terms of “fixing” these problems — well, bring back science to schools! Keep highlighting and focusing the media on awesome women in STEM fields! Provide positive role models to show girls and young women that they can be and do whoever and whatever they want!

    …just my two cents.

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