Societal bias discourages women from science

Feature photo by Maddy Jones

Feature photo by Maddy Jones

Manal Salim

Feature photo by Maddy Jones
Feature photo by Maddy Jones

Even to this day, women remain trailing behind the leading men in significant parts of education and the workforce. According to a recent study at www.science.nbcnews.com, women make up a mere 21 percent of full science professors and contribute to only 5 percent of full engineering professors.

But if one source isn’t enough to bring light to the arising issue, in a 2006 survey, according to www.livescience.com, chemistry doctoral students in the UK illustrated a pattern in the lack of success of women in pursuing a scientific career. The research found that in the first year of their doctoral programs, 70 percent of the female students said they planned a career in research. By the third year in, the female students dropped to 37 percent. However, in a sharp contrast, 59 percent of male students in their third year still planned to pursue the path of a scientific researcher.

The numbers are clear, but the reasons as to why the gender difference is so great are unfortunately even more obvious. However, despite the clarity, the roots of this problem usually go unnoticed by society. In terms of pursuing a scientific career, even from a young, possibly high-school age, girls are often discriminated from men, and are even thought of as less worthy of success in the science or engineering field.

The bias is not always intentional, but rather ingrained in the minds of society. There is a method known by researchers as the Implicit Association Test to determine how unconsciously biased one may be. For example, in a study done about women and science, individuals taking the test would be asked to very quickly associate words like “woman” with terms like “physics.” According to a 2009 study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, across 34 countries, 70 percent of people are quicker to associate male terms with science than female terms.

And in fact, though not always intended, the bias is still extremely detrimental to face of women in science. The prejudice has been ingrained into society for countless years, and has indeed suppressed the general expectations of women to pursue a scientific education. Because today’s culture doesn’t openly support of women in science, there is a lessening chance of women being hired in science-related careers, according to Stanford University neurobiologist Jennifer Raymond. It is not fair that women, due to mere standards set by society, are subconsciously unable to continue, pursue, and become successful in their career-related studies of sciences, just as male students have the ability of doing.

The detrimental impact of cultural prejudices is not only observed at the higher education level, but also even at the K-12 age groups of girls looking for an academic vision to pursue. The National Academy of Sciences discovered that the lower the gender equality and opportunities in a nation, the larger the math aptitude gap between boys and girls. This then suggests that society itself, not genetics, is to blame for the lack of encouragement for girls to be just as successful as their male counterparts in the science and math world.

In order to present a solution to this ever-growing, yet often unnoticed problem, even in their grade school years, girls should be enabled to succeed in equal comparison with boys, despite the societal bias present. At school, female engineering and science clubs should be introduced and encouraged in order to stimulate girls to observe an interest in the topics. Rather than classroom curriculums mainly focusing on teaching the great male scientists of history, equal light should be shed on the historic women who paved the way in scientific study.

Therefore, in order to ensure that girls will be confident if they choose to pursue science and math related careers in their futures, education curriculums in schools should strive to present women academically equal to men. Teachers should properly present information in a gender-balanced manner, and specifically provide encouragement to women who wish to pursue a career that society, though not openly, discriminates them from.

According to www.science.nbcnews.com, Brigitte Mühlenbruch, president of the European Platform of Women Scientists, and Maren Jochimsen of the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany believe that the benefits of this positive encouragement will not only benefit women wanting a science and engineering education, but in fact society as a whole. They state, “Motivation and participation are the basis of high-quality results in research — not biased evaluation criteria, or job insecurity. An academic culture that is transparent, democratic and sensitive to gender and diversity will benefit all scientists.”

 By Manal Salim