It’s a Girl’s World: Or is it?

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“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.

So what to do about it?

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: