Image from: http://globalclassroom.us/Portals/108225/images/girl_scientist.jpg
“More girls are getting interested in science, and I know it used to be that girls weren’t encouraged, but I’ve never felt like I couldn’t go into science…like I was being discriminated against because I was a girl” said Google Science Fair 2012 winner Brittany Wenger of Lakewood Ranch, FL.
It was the first time I’ve ever smiled while reading a Scientific American article. I smiled hard, in fact. These couple of words made me want to get up and move around and dance a little and hug Ms. Brittany Wenger-whom-I-have-never-met-before. My mind was screaming, “YOU GO GIRL.” She put into words my exact feelings. (Girls dominated the Google Science Fair in 2011 as well, by the way).
I’m picturing a lot of readers with confused faces at my happiness… Like wait, why? I feel that women’s advances can be taken for granted sometimes: “Yeah, women are getting more opportunities in science, just like in everything else nowadays.” Cool.
BUT WAIT!! Read this article (or don’t- just hear me out) and you’ll see the reason for my confusion and anger at humanity/ COMPLETE LOVE of these science fair winner-girls. If you’re one of those folks who decided against reading the article (bah humbug), I’ll sum it up for you:
Professors were less likely to offer women mentoring or job opportunities at American universities (even if they offered a job, it was lower paying than male counterparts).
Nancy Hopkins, biology professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said “People tend to think that [bias against women] has gone away, but alas, it hasn’t.”
Yale researchers sent out an application from a student seeking a position as a laboratory manager to biology, physics, and chemistry professors at 6 major research universities- 127 professors in total. The experiment? They sent some applications from ‘Jennifer’ and some from ‘John’ (the same application!!). The result? John received a higher ‘competence score’ than did Jennifer, and also received a higher starting salary.
This is the real reason everyone should be going… Wait, why? And I guess the answer is, for now, simply unconscious and even innate bias.
Ms. Hopkins suggests “affirmative effort,” or making deliberate, planned efforts to overcome discrimination; universities began using this tactic over a decade ago by utilizing more data-driven methods to help with hiring and promotion.
Jeniffer Harper-Taylor, president of the Siemens Foundation, believes that recognizing and celebrating young women in science will provide a much-needed confidence boost (ehem, Google Science Fair winners).
Yet another woman, Janelle Wilson, a sixth-grade science teacher from Georgia, says that young girls need positive role models who teach them that it’s possible to be both smart and beautiful at that critical middle-school-turning-point.
In fact, I remember a visit from NJ weather woman Janice Huff in the 5th grade immediately provoked my interest in the environment- here’s a beautiful lady who’s also confident and friendly and smart- and proud of it! Oh man, I wanted to be like her.
I think the real answer may lie in a combination of these three; we must recognize that certain biases, however unfortunately, are near-inherent qualities AND there may not be a single cure-all for these biases.
So, yes, Ms. Hopkins, we do need to make a more conscious effort to counter these unconscious thoughts. I see your point, Ms. Harper-Taylor, and can sympathize with the feeling of unparalleled joy after receiving an award for my science achievements. And I agree, Ms. Wilson, that a girl can easily be turned off from science if in middle school she’s made fun of for being a “nerd.”
Let’s make all three of these ideas work together for a more promising future for our budding young-lady-scientists.
I’m not a hardcore feminist, I promise. But I will stand up for what I believe.
‘Til next time.
P.S.- If you’re not convinced yet, take a gander at this graph from the U.S. Department of Labor: