TED Conversations

Hindi Kornbluth

The Cooper Union For The Advancement of Science and Art

This conversation is closed. Start a new conversation
or join one »

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?

+6
Share:

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Apr 16 2013: Hi Ivana,

    I'm a huge fan of Malcolm Gladwell (and that book in particular). I do agree that the lack of gender equality in STEM fields (and the "rockstars" who break the trend) is a sort of phenomenological outcome (i.e. a result of the aforementioned "accumulative advantage"). In fact, I'm totally with you in saying that the proliferation of "rockstars" isn't the way to go in order to destroy the discouragement of women from STEM fields. I think that "rockstars" are a natural consequence of promoting a culture supporting (instead of subtly discouraging) universal engagement in STEM fields.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.