Balancing the Ratio
In my last year of high school, like most other seniors, I did college visits to numerous difference schools. Because I’m interested in Earth Sciences, I took a lot at several engineering schools, such as the Colorado School of Mines. That school was the one I was most strongly recruited at, but not because of my merits. The strongest emphasis was on how I was a girl, and therefore the school wanted me. Last year, according to the school statistics, Mines recieved 6,797 applicants: 4,885 male and 1,912 female. They accepted 4,180 students: 2,957 male and 1,223 female. The ratio is nearly 2.5 men to 1 woman. Only 30% of students are female. This is about equivalent to other technical and engineering schools, and also similar to the ratio of men to women in hard science and mathematics fields. It’s sobering. Why aren’t girls looking at these fields? And how do we fix the ratio?
First off, psychological studies have shown that there is an implicit association of men with science and women with the arts. Project Implicit, run by Harvard, has two tests on gender associations. I took the Gender-Science test, and got the result that I have a slight association of women with science. However, I am a woman in science, so that’s not terribly surprising. What is surprising is how rare that association is:
The Gender-Career test has similar associations, as well. Clearly, we’ve learned through our culture that school and science are for boys, and home and art are for girls. I ran across this myself, in my junior year of high school. I’d only just moved to a new town, and was attending public school for the first time science kindergarten. However, I’d taken multiple AP classes online, so my weighted GPA put me at the top of the class. There were three guys in my AP Human Geography test who had been competing for that first place spot for their entire schooling career; they were always ranked #1, #2, and #3 in the class. When transcripts were released, and suddenly none of them was #1, they were baffled. I listened to them talk; they never once even considered that any girl in the school could have outranked them, much less the “new girl”. I found it funny, but also sad. For both guys and girls at my school, the assumption was simply that the boys were better. The girls could take calculus and physics, if they wanted to, but the boys would dominate the class. They were also the ones with ambition; even the next-highest ranked girl in the class had little more motivation than to get a Bachelor’s degree, then her “MRS degree.” This trend shows up in many schools, across time, as this Washington Post article demonstrates.
Clearly, there’s a bias problem here, that most people of either gender don’t recognize. There is no reason for there to be “male-dominated fields” anymore. Yet, they still exist, particularly in mathematics and science. But improvement is definitely being made. A few decades ago, many women were limited to being a teacher, a nurse, or a secretary, and would often quit working entirely once married. Today, that’s far from the case. More and more, women actually can do anything they want. But more girls are being encourage to explore their interest in science, thanks to parents, teachers and mentors at schools, and organizations like Project Exploration and the NEA. More people of both genders are becoming aware of the implicit biases, and are actively working to avoid them. Perhaps I’m overly optimistic, but I’d like to think that, by the time I get my master’s or doctorate degree, I’ll be just as likely to get a paleontology job at a museum as my male colleagues. It’ll take time, and a lot of work, but the ratio can be balanced.
Oh, and Happy International Women’s Day!
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons