TED Conversations

Hindi Kornbluth

The Cooper Union For The Advancement of Science and Art

This conversation is closed.

Will making rockstars out of women in science get more girls interested in science/technology/engineering/math (i.e. STEM) fields?

This week in my bioelectricity class, my classmates and I realized that this was the first engineering class any of us had ever taken where there were more women than men enrolled. We also realized that for most of us, this class, taught by TED fellow Nina Tandon, was the first engineering class we had taken to be taught by a female professor.

Finding ways to close the gender gap in science/technology/engineering/math (i.e. STEM) fields is a hot topic, and there are many discussions out there highlighting the many forces that could be at work: gender-biasing in toys, a culture that tends to oversexualize women (see: the “40 Hottest Women in Tech” list published by Complex Magazine earlier this year), or links between a society’s gender equality and female performance in the sciences. Particularly interesting is the recent finding that 15-year-old girls around the world outperform boys in science, but not in the US, Britain, and Canada.

Thinking back to Nina’s class, I wondered if we could use this class as a microcosm and ask, might we be able to get more interested in STEM fields by providing more female role models?

The potential role models are out there: women from history, like Ada Lovelace, arguably the world’s first computer programmer, and Rosalind Franklin, who discovered the structure of DNA. There’s Lise Meitner, who helped discover nuclear fission, and Emelie Du Chatelet, who predicted the existence of infrared radiation and proved that kinetic energy was proportional to v^2. For more modern inspirations, see: http://blog.ted.com/2012/07/03/more-than-75-tedtalks-showing-women-in-science-and-tech/

In 2009, the NSF reported that than 20% of engineering students were women, out of almost 500,000 students in total. Inspiring young women to go into engineering in equal numbers to men would translate to the education of another 300,000 engineers in the United States alone. How do we make this happen?

Share:

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Apr 12 2013: Hi Hindi!

    I appreciate your thoughts, it is definitely something I think about a lot, as I am also an female engineering student.

    I think that the lack of female role models has a big effect on the amount of girls interested in STEM. Miss Representation is an organization started by Jennifer Siebel Newsom (http://www.missrepresentation.org/, http://tedxwomen.org/speakers/jennifer-siebel-newsom/ watch her ted talk video!) that works towards creating a more positive image of woman in the media. One of the quotes from the documentary is "You can't be what you can't see". While I don't think this is completely true, as there are always those few who break the trends and start something new, it definitely has a lot of truth to it. See the article for more information: http://www.thedailymuse.com/tech/you-cant-be-what-you-cant-see-how-to-get-more-women-in-tech/

    The study you mention about 15-year old girls outperforming boys in many places not including the US is fascinating. It constantly surprises me that in terms of gender issues, the US is less advanced than many other parts of the world. But I guess the US is more conservative than many countries.
    • thumb
      Apr 12 2013: Hi Hadar-

      I found that study that Hindi quoted really interesting also. I found an article about it (that also contains a very helpful infographic): http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/02/04/science/girls-lead-in-science-exam-but-not-in-the-united-states.html?_r=0, and gives an interesting explanation about why this might be the case.
    • thumb
      Apr 12 2013: I know that in the US in k12, girls have been out-performing boys for a long time in math. It is also true that the publishers of math textbooks in the US are attentive to including depictions of scientists and mathematicians of both genders and a diversity of ethnicities, precisely because school districts consider that feature in textbook selections. I believe girls graduate from high school at a higher rate than boys in the US and may now be the majority of the college population also in the US.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.