Nature vs. Nurture: Girls and STEM
Why is there a gender gap in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)? You may have heard the arguments that girls find science “boring,” that their brains are “wired differently”, and that attempts to bridge the gender divide “deny human biology and nature”. Attributing the gender gap to biology misses the obvious contribution of societal and institutional biases. Co-authored by Buddhini Samarasinghe, Zuleyka Zevallos and me, our article in nature.com blogs explains how stereotype threats, lack of role models, social conditioning, unconscious bias and institutional practices create an environment where girls feel unwelcome and insecure in STEM fields. We advocate active intervention and go on to discuss effective strategies and practical ways, both simple and sophisticated, to solve the problem.
Why should we care if girls remain underrepresented in STEM? Apart from basic fairness, if we want our best and brightest working on innovative ideas and creative solutions, it makes little sense to potentially abandon half the population. We already face many hurdles; lack of funding, lack of jobs, and pushback from science denialists backed by populist politics. We need all hands on deck to forge ahead.
We must look to nurture, not nature, for change.
perhaps because Science needs strength, physical strength.
Forse perche’ la Scienza ha bisogno di Forza , Forza Fisica .
We should be able to make it a nurture to the right thing for the most important things!#**¥¥¥¥←←☆♧
gaetano pollio I’m a scientist and am not particularly strong, physically. Neither are most of the male scientists I know 🙂
you know what I mean Rajini Rao
Sorry, I don’t.
gaetano pollio science has nothing to do with physical strength.
Or I could just call you, Gnotic Pasta 🙂
I just shared this on Twitter a little bit ago. I love your elaboration! 🙂
is how the electromagnetic force and that of gravity, both forces, but different and irreplaceable
e’ come la forza elettromagnetica e quella di gravità’ , ambedue forze , ma differenti ed insostituibili .
Rajini Rao Buddhini Samarasinghe + gaetano pollio
Thanks, Annika O’Brien , for spreading the arguments!
I will sarcastically humorous, but realistic .
The force which provided the man does not have the stability I, like Beauty or Intelligence.
Having said that I consider the woman and the man together, the excellence of this Nature
Ne sarcastico ne umoristico ,ma realistico –
La Forza di cui e’ fornito l’Uomo non la ho stabilità io , come la Bellezza o l’Intelligenza .
Detto cio’ considero la Donna e l’Uomo insieme, , l’ eccellenza di questa Natura.
As a parent of a daughter a big concern of mine is that I don’t push any politics on her. She’s very much her own person and I’m not interested in using her as a vehicle to change the world per-se.
I do try to set the expectation that she be intellectually rigorous and to refuse to yield to someone else’s gender bias in her choice of pursuits.
I think what gaetano pollio is saying is for all people to work synergistically with nature and not pit man vs. woman.
Well Done !
Completely agree. I rely on knowledgeable people, male or female, to understand difficult science concepts. You guys have helped me many times already.
The problem with STEM is getting anybody interested at all. Particularly the math part – a basic foundation of a good education, and the majority of kids would consider it tantamount to abuse. Focusing on just one gender is like trying to fly one wing of a crashing airplane.
Yes Madam, that would be self defeating.
Women tend to be mostly interested in money and status so they focus on business studies and education because science disciplines offer fewer remunerative possibilities and require more idealism or at least they should, in theory.
Sadly there are now many many pseudo-science operations that do research on commission and this is where you will find
the complaints and the arguments as females use their mind games and their attributes as substitutes for ability and come under fire
Real female scientists have never had a problem finding employment or working with colleagues. It’s these hustlers making all the fuss.
This is excellent Rajini Rao, Buddhini Samarasinghe, and Zuleyka Zevallos ~ Sharing now :-).
Rajini Rao, Buddhini Samarasinghe, and Zuleyka Zevallos, you are doing a good thing.
Excellent article on the Nature Blog.
I think the one sentence that spells it out best is:
Apart from basic fairness, if we want our best and brightest working on innovative ideas and creative solutions, it makes little sense to potentially abandon half the population.
Thanks for your support Gary Ray R and more generally on standing up for gender diversity in STEM! I think many colleagues believe in equality, but we need more to add their voices as you and others do, on a regular basis.
Thanks for your comments, support, and shares, everyone! Rashid Moore thanks for the links- I had not seen the Girls in STEM site on HuffPo before..plenty of interesting articles to peruse.
John Lawrence do read the article in the link and provide evidence to support your opinions.
It’s very important that such notions of science being a field of only men are disspelled. I believe that any person, irrespective of gender, can be a researcher and scientist provided he or she has a natural flair and aptitude, together with guidance and teaching in the particular subject.
On a completely unrelated note, I wish Google+ had a way of prefixing the “Professor” or “Dr” before a name while mentioning them. It looks and sounds very odd otherwise. :-
I think anyone capable of objective peception would agree with my comment – summed up as there are good reliable female scientists and there are also unreliable females who try to make progress by substituting mind games and their personal attributes for ability: it was ever thus I don’t know why you would have a problem with it
Whilst the work place is regarded as existing for the benefit of those employed in it there will always be injustice and prejudice – against minorities, against races, against poorer people and others – in the sixties we began addressing this at its fundament via trade
Unionism, but then along came this phoney feminism that you are a part of and blew our much-needed reforms apart
You should focus on improving your skills and acquiring more experience which will improve your chances in the career stakes.
Adit Morey actually, in the US (and in the west, generally), it’s perfectly normal to refer to profs/teachers by their first name 🙂
Rajini Rao oh…that’s very nice. I thought profs in colleges had their names prefixed with the designation in the U.S and the West.
I have a friend over here whom I address with Mr because he is 70 years old. He is an American and sometimes addresses me as ” dear Mr Morey” in return. It’s very funny. 😀
We (men) rigged science to be fiercely competitive, using the rules of combat that are closely analogous to those utilized by males of most mammals to fight for females. Darwinian selection was supposed to produce the best science. Instead, it simply produced ridiculously overgrown antlers, a culture of eternal head-butting, and pompous displays of ‘competence’ and aggression. And now we are surprised that we ran off most of the women? Duh!
Phillip Buckhaults As an outsider I’ve observed the Antler Syndrome (to borrow your analogy) as well. Assuming the players aren’t complete assholes I’m not sure what society could do to fully assuage the insecurity that leads to this. Increasing public funding would probably go a long way to move the trophy away from procuring funding via dramatics and back to scientific achievement though.
Richard Healy, many of the players are. Darwinian selection has (unintentionally) greatly enriched for precisely this trait.
Phillip Buckhaults Brings to mind the discoveries among the “Forest Troop” – a group of baboons whose culture drastically changed in the face of disease:
Phillip Buckhaults , Richard Healy interestingly, NIH statistics show that men and women have similar success rates in funding, which is worth cheering. Overall, women receive 30% of the standard R01 type grants, and fewer “center” grants which come with more money.
I agree that Darwinian selection does enrich for specific traits in research, although among the successful scientists, both men and women have these traits.
(I think what +gaetano pollio is saying is for all people to work synergistically with nature and not pit man vs. woman.)
a question for researchers: do you think the physical strength is overall strength of the whole body or the psychic is differentiated from that of the muscles, thank you.
una domanda ai ricercatori : secondo voi la Forza fisica e’ nell’insieme la forza di tutto il corpo oppure quella psichica e’ differenziata da quella dei muscoli , grazie .
Rajini Rao i did not know that NIH stats showed similar success rates between men and women, that is indeed good to know. However, many of my female colleagues privately bemoan the culture of science and its adolescent power games. And i believe them.
Phillip Buckhaults while many successful women do play those power games, others who cannot or choose not to do so are left out of the race. There is too much “machismo” in big science. Which is a shame, because none of that has to do with the scientific quality and competence.
I am currently working my way through the very philosophical text: Is Water H20? Evidence, Realism and Pluralism which has little to do with sexism, but still relates to the “science with antlers” discussion above. I think that not only does this push for personal domination have nothing to do with scientific quality and competence, but that the pursuit of actual science is often the worse for this consistent approach.
Geneticist Barbara McClintock, is, when noted at all, frequently described as having a “Quiet Brilliance”. Rosalind Franklin also comes to mind.
I’ve also noticed that output (publications) per person falls off in the mega labs with huge budgets. There is an optimum size for labs, somewhere around 5-10 people per principal investigator.
Review of the book I mentioned above: http://www.sciencemagazinedigital.org/sciencemagazine/08_august_2014?pg=33#pg33.
Hmm, interesting. I can’t say that I think science is fatally “monistic” as the author suggests. In the example of “central dogma” in molecular biology that he uses (DNA->RNA->protein)- the concept is never taught as being literally a “dogma”. It’s a catchy title that happened to stick. Catchy names abound in science, like “kiss and run” in vesicle fusion. Typically, the very next section in any textbook (including my son’s high school biology text) explains that RNA viruses go from RNA->DNA. It’s just that most of biology fits into the “central dogma” just as everyday physics is Newtonian and one does not need to invoke relativity.
I agree with you that it is certainly overreaching to describe even the most “antlered” pursuit of science as “fatalistic”. I do think that supporting a more broadly based series of approaches would frequently be best.
The dumbing down phenomenon which has dominated in the last 50 years affects every field from politics thru military and media to science and medicine
The rise of commercially sponsored research also adversely affects scientific recruitment and training:
Competitive activity in publication and the award field is a third factor and a fourth is the culture of personality and status which has infected pretty well all professional activity
A lot of work – for example in molecular biology – gets stifled for one or more of these reasons so that second rate commercially sponsored “research” can continue to be treated as authoritative.
Finally teaching standards – not just in science and medicine – are so poor that only well-off students who can afford extra one-to-one tuition are generally speaking able to progress particularly in academia which creates a self-replicating cycle of mediocrity
One of the biggest problems is all the rubbish that exists in participants’ heads- sexism – envy – greed – etc which are the components of the mental stimulants that fuel capitalism
The people I feel sorry for today are young white males of European origin and modest means.
As I said before: you should look at your own performance to see whether it is responsible for any perceived failure in the work market of your students: word gets round among employes that some colleges are producing trouble-makers with poor performance profiles .
I find it discouraging that we still have to have posts like this one. Progress has been frustratingly slow!
We must look to nurture, not nature, for change. Nice quote.
Drew Sowersby “If we glance to human history, the story of women is the story of injustice, inequality, violence and exploitation.” – Ziauddin Yousafzai: My daughter, Malala. This quote came across my stream today, courtesy of Zuleyka Zevallos . Certainly, the sexism in STEM is a microcosm of a much larger problem and no one is claiming that STEM fields are unique in this. Regardless, we have to acknowledge and address the problem. There are sure to be better analogies, but let’s compare this to the problem of drug abuse: the way we deal with drug abuse in sports is different from the way we would in juveniles, or in the workplace. Even though drug abuse is a societal problem, we still need to address it in every facet of our lives.
That said, our article deals with a very specific aspect of sexism in STEM: the idea that girls don’t like science and technology because of their biology. A significant number of people, who may otherwise be excellent human beings and even consider themselves supporters and allies of women, truly believe this and will argue that women’s brains are simply wired differently and we prefer to do other things. We deconstruct this argument systematically, pointing to relevant, peer-reviewed, scientific studies. Separately, STEM Women on G+ have addressed other issues relating to gender imbalance in STEM, such as everyday sexism, also known as “benevolent sexism”.
It wasn’t clear to me what exactly is the question that you would like to pose to women? You say, I wonder how many of the surveyed women would say it was because they could not compete with the males or felt suppressed. Is there a difference between the choices? I think they link to the same problems we touch on in our article: that of stereotype threat, socialization and institutional bias. Consider that in our field of science, life sciences/biology, women greatly outnumber men in obtaining PhDs. This should be a clear indication that women do choose STEM careers. But when looking at their career trajectories, we see that they drop off along the way in greater numbers than men (“leaky pipeline”). The reasons for this are multiple and abundantly-documented. We should be past arguing about this, and instead acknowledge and address the problem- instead of having to justify over and over again that the problem exists.
I agree with you that there is also a particular problem in academia in nurturing young scientists..the deck is stacked against them. Finally, thanks for the links!
John Lawrence your two comments were marked as spam and hidden from view presumably by readers who were tired of looking up your nose. I have restored them to point out that you have made a lot of sweeping generalizations and expressed personal opinions that you do not support by statistics or scientific studies. Your comment that you feel the most sorry for “young, white European males of modest means” speaks to your lack of understanding and empathy for women and historically challenged minorities. So we will have to agree to disagree, as I will not be responding to other similar comments.
The phoney feminists do more harm to women than any mcp run business: I have been listening to the kind of self-pitying nonsense you talk for, as I say, fifty years. I’ve been lucky enough to work with and even for many clever and talented women over the years and so I am very well able to distinguish between them and the unpleasant hostility and needless aggression of those who -apart from anything else – can’t listen to common sense. My only hope is that young white males will be deterred from taking physiology at John Hopkins as they would have their gooses well and truly cooked
Okay, you’ve spilled your vile nonsense so feel free to withdraw your unpleasant nose from this post John Lawrence .
I think that the comments of John Lawrence should be responded to, as they pertain directly to the intent of this thread.
Most of our efforts as scientists interested in eradicating gender discrimination are aimed at those in positions of current power. But there is something to be said for changing societal attitudes as well. We live in a society with a spreading gap between rich and poor. One thing that the weathy and powerful can do to maintain that position is to employ a strategy of divided and conquer.
White males face a changing society, both in places like the US and the UK. One in which the relatively well paid, industrial, frequently unionized jobs of the past once available to them no longer exisit. These were jobs that paid well enough to support a family. One in which the wife frequently did stay home.
Do we want to return to those days? Were they really great days for everyone? No.
But what we need to do is to have a little understanding of the forces that do build white male resentment. This is the sort of resentment that is perhaps exemplified by the bad behavoir of the white police officers in Ferguson MO. Diffusing resentments is necessary for society to move forward.
What needs to be made clear are the many ways in which societies can not advance to their full potential if women and minorities are held back. Support for the arts for example. John Lawrence is unlikely to come up with scientific references for his ideas because he is, according to his profile, not a scientist. I believe he speaks out of his perceived personal experience. One of the things that a prosperous society can foster is greater support for the arts. John Lawrence is apparently a musician and a filmmaker. His path forward is not being held up by the success of Rajini Rao . In fact, greater success in science and medicine, with a broad representation by all segments of society, lead towards, not away from, greater opportunities for non scientists, apparently like John Lawrence .
Thank you Gaythia Weis I tend to get testy when dealing with . . . and appreciate your calm and well stated comment.
Gaythia Weis you speak with a generosity of spirit, more than Mr. Lawrence deserves, but I thank you for it.
It’s getting better all the time, Drew Sowersby . The other day, someone chided me to “leave feminism at the door” but I remembered that we wouldn’t be where we are today if it were not for those feminists, suffragettes and bra-burners 🙂 So, I’ll just do my part and expect a better future, even if it is a “slow-evolving monster”. Cheers.
Absolutely right, Drew Sowersby ! So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal Newport expounds mastering that effort. Building #careercapital is the validation asset each of us can exploit according to our unique situation; everything else is “garnish.”
Cal’s research, interviews and examples establish a number of rules and a clear, solid foundation- substantial, quality career capital is quality craftsmanship as a result of deep, hard work.
I agree. We must tell our girls how smart they are before we tell them how beautiful. Look up Hedy Lamar. She was a mathematical genius and beautiful. Heddy’s advice to women is: If you want to be sexy act stupid. Hedy Lamar is the inventor of frequency hopping, Wi Fi, cell phones and GPS. Check her science out. She also developed IFF and gave it to the US Navy. I think we should have a movie about this intelligent and beautiful woman.
John Stroncheck , Hedy Lamarr would make a great subject for a movie! I described her work on frequency hopping in this old post: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+RajiniRao/posts/AQWnyKTxBfr
At STEM Women on G+ we regularly showcase the accomplishments of talented women, both past and present.
While I’m all for empowering oneself, investing in training and deep, hard work as Drew Sowersby and Kel Mohror suggest, it is important to understand that gender bias does not care about hard work and self empowerment! When studies show that a wage or promotion gap exists between men and women for the same work and qualifications, then it’s time to take measures to guard against discrimination, educate and train people so they do not perpetuate these problems.
Bill McGarvey just posted a link (http://goo.gl/57Dr6J) to studies showing how simply having children imposes a pay penalty on women, whereas it boosts the salaries of men. This is because of old-fashioned cultural bias that assume mothers are more distracted and less hardworking than fathers. Here is a telling excerpt from the article :
“Ms. Correll co-wrote a study at Cornell in which the researchers sent fake résumés to hundreds of employers. They were identical, except on some there was a line about being a member of the parent-teacher association, suggesting that the applicant was a parent. Mothers were half as likely to be called back, while fathers were called back slightly more often than the men whose résumés did not mention parenthood. In a similar study done in a laboratory, Ms. Correll asked participants how much they would pay job applicants if they were employers. Mothers were offered on average $11,000 less than childless women and $13,000 less than fathers.
In her research, Ms. Correll found that employers rate fathers as the most desirable employees, followed by childless women, childless men and finally mothers. They also hold mothers to harsher performance standards and are less lenient when they are late.”
Gosh, no, children are not the cause of gender problems in STEM. It’s the bias, both conscious and unconscious, embedded in the minds and actions of people that is the root cause. That can be eradicated by education, as we have been trying to do through this post. Yes, we do indeed point out the importance of removing institutional bias, as we explain in our article. You got that right!
Another point worth noting, Drew Sowersby . Although I am personally successful in academia and not been negatively impacted by sexism in any serious way, I am still able to observe sexism in my environment and advocate against it, through mentoring, professional societies and social media outreach. One does not have to be a victim to advocate against a social injustice. Therefore, I am not about to drop my productive scientific career any time soon 🙂 Also, I understand that you are soured by academia, but women face discrimination in all realms of work, including business. Going into business is not going to solve this problem. Becoming more independent is always empowering, whether in academia (as a tenured professor) or in business (as a consultant).
Drew Sowersby read our article in the link. We do cite many examples showing how education and training have successfully addressed bias and improved gender imbalances in STEM fields.
This is not a post about academia vs.business. Please do not derail the discussion or distract from the focus.
I’m sure we are on the same side of this argument, I’m not sure, however, what you are so angry about.
Drew Sowersby I’m not going to continue to argue at cross-purposes with you because you ignore the solutions-based studies we cite in our article. In fact, I doubt very much that you have read it, or indeed care to do so. Many of your sweeping statements have actually been disproven by facts, but you seem not to know of this. You are rejecting scientific, evidence-based and statistically rigorous studies for anecdotal stories and personal beliefs. I have now heard and acknowledged your opinions. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your personal thoughts on this topic.
Rajini Rao and Elvis did all the calculations for the Voyager:))) Do you know of a resource I can explore regarding advance research and clinical trials using a combination of drug therapy and brain mapping of the effects of antipsychotic medicines on areas of the brain? Thanks.
John Stroncheck I recommend either PubMed or Google Scholar with the relevant search terms. Papers from federally funded research are open access, as are older publications in most journals. Hope that helps.
Good Morning Rajini Rao ~ I have lived with the stereotype bias you describe in a very personal way. Your words resonated with me and validated my perceptions. I didn’t know it had a name and had been studied. Stereotype bias is alive and well in health care, but also in the world of business, where I have encountered much misogyny and sexism. Thank you for speaking out for women.
Thank you for sharing, Mara Rose. This is a difficult topic to discuss, and as you see from the comments, it lays us open to accusations of being “man haters” and worse, often by the privileged, who have little idea of what we face.
Thank all of you again for posting this. I know it is hard to put up with the . . . xxxxxxxx’s, but you say things that need to be said.
I am a card carrying Feminist. I’ve been a member of NOW for decades.
Love you for that, Gary Ray R ❤
Many thanks for your support..I needed to hear that.
Can I share a little thought I Rajini Rao ? 🙂
“The gender and its inequalities, for who looks immersed in their culture, don’t sees inequality or see it with extreme difficulty. It is shaped by their culture and assumes gender roles only as truths, and all gender ideology emerges from their culturally constructed beliefs, themselves constructs of gender stereotypes.
From an early age children are encouraged to act according to its gender, this incentive can motivate subsequent behavior of inequality, since the early role of the traditional ideologies of gender foster the domination of women by men.
This domination that fosters inequality is a gradual process that goes through childhood and into the teen years, beyond family and social environment, still has the bombing of a whole new range of media that constantly promote gender stereotypes and virtualize gender as constant sexual object of desire, in the sale of consumer products or the subliminal messages in evidence that motivate behavior patterns of inequality between men and women.
Today the world is a river in complete upheaval, the current of that river consists of rapids where humans hardly keep afloat. Waters of shame and misery.
Today, in the twenty-first century, men, women and children face, war, hunger, slavery, poverty, violence and corruption. Faces of injustice are bleeding behind the appearance of established political powers and transnational corporations that rule the world, where it is permissible for 223 girls in Nigeria to be abducted and held captive in a clear gender violence.
In the working world, in the crisis of employment, it is the woman who suffers the most, apart from the lower wages compared to men, they are feeling the brunt of unemployment with more force, in addition they are responsible for the care of children and the eldery, while the State relieve this responsibility by reducing the amounts of social support for this purpose…..”
Jose M G Guerreiro
Eloquently expressed, Jose M. G. Guerreiro . Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. It is hardly surprising that the domination of women, their sexualization, innate gender bias and unequal treatment extends into the professional workplace, classrooms and research laboratories, even if it is less egregious than in society at large. Yet there are individuals who do not see that this is an important problem to be acknowledged and addressed, and who are quick to label those who raise the topic as “man haters”. Surprisingly, many of these people consider themselves “allies” and supporters of gender equality, many are scientists and colleagues, but their words and actions reveal that they are tone deaf. Thanks for your words of support and understanding.
Thank You Rajini Rao
This is really important research. Congrats!
May I offer an additional thought? Can you apply segmentation by region, class size and textbook selection?
Bill Collins , I don’t understand what you mean by segmentation. Could you be more clear? Thx.
To put it differently, can you refine the data into segments such as what part fibre country (or better yet by school district which can be correlated later to economics), how many in a class, what textbooks were used, etc. I am wondering if there are success stories in the midst of unfortunate and sad results. They probably correlate to awesome teachers but I hate to prejudge.
Are there gender bender androgynous scientist? I think that all scientist should become androgynous so that they could focus on the science apart from the gender of their respective colleagues. How does this sound to you?
To do what…exactly…?
pure and simple discrimination. the white male doesn’t want to give up anything.
The only way is to have more girls given a chance to prosper in STEM fields and support them. That means, when we meet one of those smart and ambitious, give her a chance.
We need to put our money where our mouth is.
Rajini Rao sorry to be late to the party; however, this is a great post! I enjoyed reading the insightful comments, we’ll at least most of them, and following the spirited conversation. It’s no wonder you’re the best at what you do – well done!
Larry Fournillier thank you so much, it’s never too late to join a party 🙂