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«A Resource Guide for Parents and Teens Developed and Compiled by the Youth Council of the DuPage Workforce Board A Letter to Parents: Your teen’s ...»

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In business and industry both women and men identify family responsibilities as a possible barrier to advancement, but women are affected differently than men by this “family penalty” (Simard et al., 2008, p. 5). Although both women and men feel that having a family hinders their success at work, women are more likely than men to report foregoing marriage or children and delaying having children. Among women and men with families, women are more likely to report that they are the primary caregiver and have a partner who also works full time. A recent retention study found that most women and men who left engineering said that interest in another career was a reason, but women were far more likely than men to also cite time and family-related issues (Society of Women Engineers, 2006; Frehill et al., 2008).

Additionally, women in STEM are more likely to have a partner who is also in STEM and faces a similarly demanding work schedule. In a situation where a “two body problem” exists, the man’s career is often given priority (Hewlett et al., 2008).

WhErE do WE Go FroM hErE?

Multiple factors contribute to the underrepresentation of women and girls in STEM and, therefore, multiple solutions are needed to correct the imbalance. The remainder of this report profiles eight research findings, each of which offers practical ideas for helping girls and women reach their potential in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Selected for their relevance to public debate and their scientific credibility, these case studies provide important insights into the question of why so few women study and work in many STEM fields.

AAUW 26 These findings provide evidence on the nurture side of the nature-nurture debate, demonstrating that social and environmental factors clearly contribute to the underrepresentation of women in science and engineering. The findings are organized into three areas: social and environmental factors that shape girls’ achievements and interest in math and science; the college environment; and the continuing importance of bias, often operating at an unconscious level, as an obstacle to women’s success in STEM fields.

G i rl s’ Achi evem ent s and i nteres t in M ath an d S c ien ce Are Shap e d by t he Environm ent aro u n d Th em This report profiles four research projects that demonstrate the effects of societal beliefs and the learning environment on girls’ achievements and interest in science and math. Chapter 2 profiles research showing that when teachers and parents tell girls that their intelligence can expand with experience and learning, girls do better on math tests and are more likely to want to continue to study math.

Chapter 3 examines research showing that negative stereotypes about girls’ abilities in math are still relevant today and can lower girls’ test performance and aspirations for science and engineering careers. When test administrators tell students that girls and boys are equally capable in math, the difference in performance disappears, illustrating the importance of the learning environment for encouraging girls’ achievement and interest in math.

Chapter 4 profiles research on self-assessment, or how we view our own abilities. This research finds that girls assess their mathematical abilities lower than do boys with similar past mathematical achievements. At the same time, girls hold themselves to a higher standard than boys do in subjects like math, believing that they have to be exceptional to succeed in “male” fields.

One result of girls’ lower self-assessment of their math ability—even in the face of good grades and test scores—and their higher standard for performance is that fewer girls than boys aspire to STEM careers.

One of the most consistent, and largest, gender differences in cognitive abilities is found in the area of spatial skills, with boys and men consistently outperforming girls and women. Chapter 5 highlights research documenting that individuals’ spatial skills consistently improve dramatically in a short time with a simple training course. If girls are in an environment that enhances their success in science and math with spatial skills training, they are more likely to develop their skills as well as their confidence and consider a future in a STEM field.

–  –  –

Likewise, colleges and universities can attract more female science and engineering faculty if they improve the integration of female faculty into the departmental culture. Research profiled in chapter 7 provides evidence that women are less satisfied with the academic workplace and more likely to leave it earlier in their careers than their male counterparts are. College and university administrators can recruit and retain more women by implementing mentoring programs and effective work-life policies for all faculty members.

b i a s, o f te n U ncons cious, lim i ts Wo men’s Pro gress in S ci e nt i f i c and Engineer ing Fie ld s Research profiled in chapter 8 shows that most people continue to associate science and math fields with “male” and humanities and arts fields with “female,” including individuals who actively reject these stereotypes. Implicit bias may influence girls’ likelihood of identifying with and participating in math and science and also contributes to bias in education and the workplace—even among people who support gender equity. Taking the implicit bias test at https://implicit.harvard.edu can help people identify and understand their own implicit biases so that they can work to compensate for them.





Research profiled in chapter 9 shows that people not only associate math and science with “male” but also often hold negative opinions of women in “masculine” positions, like scientists or engineers. This research shows that people judge women to be less competent than men in “male” jobs unless women are clearly successful in their work. When a woman is clearly competent in a “masculine” job, she is considered to be less likable. Because both likability and competence are needed for success in the workplace, women in STEM fields can find themselves in a double bind.

Women have made impressive gains in science and engineering but are still a distinct minority in many science and engineering fields. The following eight research findings, taken together, suggest that creating environments that support girls’ and women’s achievements and interest in science and engineering will encourage more girls and women to pursue careers in these vital fields.

AAUW 28 Chapter 2.

Beliefs about Intelligence So often, when something comes quickly to a student, we say, “Oh, you’re really good at this.” The message there is, “I think you’re smart when you do something that doesn’t require any effort or you haven’t challenged yourself.” Someone said to me recently, “In your culture, struggle is a bad word,” and I thought... “That’s right.” We talk about it as an unfortunate thing, but when you think about a career in science or math or anything, of course you struggle. That’s the name of the game! If you’re going to discover something new or invent something new,

it’s a struggle. So I encourage educators to celebrate that, to say:

“Who had a fantastic struggle? Tell me about your struggle!” —Carol Dweck3 Carol Dweck is a social and developmental psychologist at Stanford University. For 40 years she has studied the foundations of motivation. In an interview with AAUW, Dweck described

how she first became interested in this topic:

Since graduate school, I’ve been interested in how students cope with difficulty. Over the years it led me to understand that there were these whole frameworks that students brought to their achievement—that in one case made difficulty a terrible indictment but in the other case made difficulty a more exciting challenge. In one of my very first studies where I was giving failure problems, this little boy rubbed his hands together, smacked his lips, and said, “I love a challenge.” And I thought, “Where is this kid from? Is he from another planet?” Either you cope with failure or you don’t cope with failure, but to love it? That was something that was beyond my understanding, and I thought, “I’m going to figure out what this kid knows, and I’m going to bottle it.” Over time I came to understand a framework in which you could relish something that someone else was considering a failure.

Dweck’s research provides evidence that a “growth mindset” (viewing intelligence as a changeable, malleable attribute that can be developed through effort) as opposed to a “fixed mindset” (viewing intelligence as an inborn, uncontrollable trait) is likely to lead to greater persistence in the face of adversity and ultimately success in any realm (Dweck & Leggett, 1988;

Blackwell et al., 2007; Dweck, 2006, 2008).

According to Dweck’s research findings, individuals with a fixed mindset are susceptible to a loss of confidence when they encounter challenges, because they believe that if they are truly “smart,” things will come easily to them. If they have to work hard at something, they tend to Carol S. Dweck is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and a leading 3 researcher in the field of student motivation. Her research focuses on theories of intelligence and highlights the critical role of mindsets in students’ achievement. She has held professorships at Columbia and Harvard Universities. Her recent book, Mindset (Random House, 2006), has been widely acclaimed and is being translated into 17 languages.

AAUW 30 question their abilities and lose confidence, and they are likely to give up because they believe they are “not good” at the task and, because their intelligence is fixed, will never be good at it.

Individuals with a growth mindset, on the other hand, show a far greater belief in the power of effort, and in the face of difficulty, their confidence actually grows because they believe they are learning and getting smarter as a result of challenging themselves (see figure 14). Dweck and her colleagues found that students—in both middle school and college—are about equally divided between the two mindsets.

The significance of an individual’s mindset often does not emerge until she or he faces challenges. In a supportive environment such as elementary school, students with a belief in fixed intelligence may do just fine; however, upon encountering the challenges of middle school, differences are likely to emerge between students with a fixed mindset about intelligence and those who believe that intelligence can increase with effort.

Because of this, and because math skills are particularly likely to be viewed as fixed (Williams & King, 1980), Dweck and her colleagues chose to test their theory by assessing the mindset of students entering junior high school and then tracking the students’ math grades for two years. The study included 373 moderately high-achieving seventh graders in four successive entering classes of 67 to 114 students in a New York City public school. One math teacher taught each grade, and the school had no mathematics tracking. The researchers assessed whether each student held a fixed mindset or a growth mindset at the beginning of the study by asking the students to rank their agreement with a number of statements, such as, “You have a certain amount of intelligence, and you really can’t do much to change it” and “You can learn new things, but you can’t really change your basic intelligence.” Nearly two years later, students who endorsed a strong growth mindset were outperforming those who held a fixed mindset, controlling for prior achievement. The researchers concluded that a student’s motivational framework rather than her or his initial achievement determined whether students’ math grades would improve.

In light of this finding the researchers conducted a second study to see if an intervention to teach seventh graders that intelligence is malleable would have any effect on their motivation in the classroom or on their grades. This study included 91 relatively low-achieving seventh graders from a different New York City public school. The students were split into two groups for a 25-minute period once each week for eight weeks. During this time, one-half of the students were taught that intelligence is malleable, and one-half were taught study skills.

The students in the intervention group were taught that learning changes the brain and they should think of the brain as a muscle that becomes stronger, developing new connections and strengthening existing ones as someone learns. As a result, the person becomes smarter. The lessons also stressed that mistakes made in the course of learning are necessary and help

–  –  –

The results of this intervention were remarkable. While grades for all students in the experiment were declining on average before the intervention (between spring of sixth grade and fall of seventh grade), as is common in the transition to junior high school, for those students who were taught that intelligence is malleable, the decline in grades was reversed and their average math grades improved within a few months of the intervention. In contrast, the students in the control group continued to experience a decline in grades. This study provides evidence that the learning environment can influence an individual’s mindset (fixed or growth).



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