Fewer women than men enter careers in the math and science fields because of negative stereotypes rather than biological differences, according to members of a Glendale College panel.
In high school, women are often discouraged from taking math, said panelist Marcia Albert, the college’s faculty coordinator of supplemental instruction.
“We need to get to the girls early before they develop the negative stereotypes about learning math and science,” Albert said.
The discussion of gender difference in the math and science fields by Albert and four math and science instructors drew a crowd of about 40.
Of the five panelists, Albert, who conducted her own study of computer aptitude in two local high schools, voiced the most concern about the lack of women who choose careers in computer, math and science fields.
“Only 4% of the engineers in this country are women,” Albert said. “Math, science and computer science have been regarded as male domains. But we are not going to have enough males to accommodate those jobs in the 21st Century.”
To get those jobs, she said, women must first overcome the stereotypes of their youth, including the greater encouragement boys receive to participate in activities that build analytical skills. “You don’t get a lot of analytical skills playing with Barbie dolls,”
Other panelists agreed, although some pointed out that attitudes are beginning to change.
Math professor Lynn Kast said she has seen an increase in the number of women studying math. “I remember when I first taught beginning calculus class five years ago I had one woman,” Kast said. Now, she said, a third of her advanced calculus students are women.
Kathy Holmes, also a math professor, said her best math students not only are women, but women who are returning to college. “They may be scared to begin . . . but a lot of them really blossom out and do fantastic work.”
But one panelist, the only man, said he believes males are more inclined toward math.
“Some researchers believe math giftedness comes from testosterone in the womb,” said math professor Peter Stathis.
Albert disagreed, citing other studies as well as her own research. “Whenever they take into account the number of years that boys and girls have taken high school math, there is no statistical difference.”
The panel on March 23 was a joint Women’s History Month/Science and Humanities Lecture Series presentation.