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BACKGROUND 
 RESEARCH GIRLS IN STEM C A R M E N Z A G A Z E TA


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REFINED TFI

GIRLS 
 IN STEM Our society has negative gender stereotypes for both men and women. These notions can be detrimental to an individual’s development and happiness, as well as society’s advancement. In particular, there’s little encouragement and interest among young women to seek STEM related careers. This lack of enthusiasm is often times a response to persistent gender bias, such as the notion that women are inferior in male dominated fields, like science.


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ACADEMIC RESEARCH

A study published by the Journal of Social Sciences of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln confirms that, between elementary and high school, many girls loose interest in STEM related subjects.1 2 This happens even though girls and boys in K-12 do not significantly differ in their abilities in mathematics and science. 3 According to them this drop emerges in middle school, when peers begin to play a stronger role in shaping adolescent identities. Their evidence suggests that friendship dynamics contribute to gendered patterns in science career aspirations. Middle School aged girls tend to modify their behaviors to fit in4 and conform to society's stereotypes of feminin ity, sexuality and beauty. Often times, they become preoccupied with their appearance, specially in terms of peer pressure and expectations. They are forced to choose between popularity and their passions, Study examines how, why adolescence halts girls' interest in science by Deann Gayman. March 21, 2017. 
 http://news.unl.edu/newsrooms/today/article/study-examines-how-why-adolescence-halts-girls-interest-in-science/ 1

The Potential Scientist’s Dilemma: How the Masculine Framing of Science Shapes Friendships and Science Job Aspirations. G. Robin Gauthier, Patricia Wonch Hill, Julia McQuillan, Amy N. Spiegel and Judy Diamond. 2017.
 http://www.mdpi.com/2076-0760/6/1/14/htm 2

The State of Girls and Women in STEM by the National Girls Collaborative Project. 2013. https://ngcproject.org/sites/default/files/ documents/ngcpstemstats_web.pdf 3

Gifted children need a place to belong by Gail Post, Ph.D. https://giftedchallenges.blogspot.com/2013/11/gifted-children-needplace-to-belong.html 4


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resulting in many times an abandonment of STEM interests. Some of them even “dumb themselves down” in order to not alienate other girls or intimidate the boys.5 Additionally, there are hormonal changes during puberty that exacerbate the problem6 . Certain biochemical and neurological differences can set girls apart. The production of estrogen, early growth of the amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex, all contribute to a tendency toward caution, worry and emotional reactivity that increases during puberty. Girls are more geared towards relationships, they are more interactive to faces and even smile at an earlier age on average than boys. However, attributing the gender gap to biology misses the obvious contribution of societal and institutional biases. The “girls are not interested in STEM” mantra is itself an example7 . Knowledge of a prejudicial stereotype can lead to enough anxiety that it becomes a selffulfilling prophecy. Although initially applied to racial Math Doesn't Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail by Danica McKellar. 2008.https://www.amazon.com/Math-Doesnt-Suck-Survive-Breaking/dp/0452289491 5

The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults by Frances E. Jensen and Amy Ellis Nutt. 2015. https://www.amazon.com/dp/0062067842/?tag=saloncom08-20 6

Nature vs Nurture: Girls and STEM by Zuleyka Zevallos. http://blogs.nature.com/soapboxscience/2014/09/04/nature-vs-nurturegirls-and-stem 7


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bias in IQ tests, ‘stereotype threat’ can be extended to

great effect on their personal development. Sheryl

gender as well. Reminding girls that they are girls just

Sandberg, CFO of FAcebook, also mentions this phe-

before a math test can impede their performance8. This

nomenon in her book “Lean In”.

effect can be seen in children as young as age five. The key point is that as adults, we are able to view stereotypes as generalizations about a group. Unfortunately, young children are more accepting of stereotypes, and may implicitly believe that girls are indeed poor at STEM subjects. As girls grow up, these stereotypes affect their identities as STEM professionals.

The Girls’ Index,10 a recent study by Hinkelman, surveyed girls from 5th through 12th grade and found that the percentage of girls who would describe themselves as confident declines more than 25% throughout the middle school years, from 86% to 60%. By 9th grade, confidence is as its lowest point, and then it levels off for the next three years. Girls reported

The Stone Center at Wellesley College9 introduced the

confidence does not return to pre-middle school levels

concept of “self-in-relation”. This concept proposes that

for the remainder of high school.

women develop through their relationships with others. They also observed that women are often rewarded for being care-takers as opposed to other roles. This social construct can create problems, when assertiveness is required for success. Many girls can be labeled as “bossy” or ‘overbearing”, and this will have a

Hinkelman’s research supports that adolescent girls often develop a lack of confidence in their changing bodies and can become withdrawn and unsure of themselves. Puberty accounts for some of these confidence challenges (as we saw with the neurological changed described earlier); however, girls also receive intense

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Can salience of gender identity impair math performance among 7–8 years old girls? The moderating role of task difficul ty by Emmanuelle NeuvilleJean-Claude croizethttps://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF03173428 Women's Growth In Connection: Writings from the Stone Center by Judith V. Jordan PhD, Alexandra G Kaplan. 1991. https:// www.amazon.com/Womens-Growth-Connection-Writings-Center/dp/0898624657 9

10 The Girls’ Index: New Insights into the Complex World of Today’s Girls by Hinkelman, L. 2017. 
 https://static1.squarespace.com/static/597249b6d7bdcec54c7fdd10/t/59cec40132601ed2cee562bd/1506722842794/ Girls%27+Index+Research+Brief+Final.pdf


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messaging from media and society regarding ideal body

Much research has also been done on how to combat

shape, size and image. These internalized messages can

this paradigm. It has been found that girls can benefit

impact the way that a girl feels about herself, which can

from meeting women who are successful in STEM

contribute to a lower level of confidence. A lower level of

fields, and who can balance work and family life. These

confidence, although initially based on appearances can

role models can include computer programmers or

seep through other areas, only making the academic

aerospace engineers. Furthermore, when social or

insecurities worse.

group activities are in place, girls tend to show

Stereotypes about girls' abilities persist beyond peer relationships and influence household and educational environments . Teachers11 and parents tend to underestimate girl’s innate abilities. They assume that the girls just work harder, while the boys are inher-

off their talents. If science is normalized, the social stigmas and stereotypes don’t influence the gender dynamic as much. It has been repeatedly found that, when girls are able to not conform to negative gender roles, they can achieve great success in STEM fields.14


ently good at “classically male” subjects, while there’s no scientific evidence to support those claims. 12 Middle School girls know themselves to be capable and talented, but they are also aware of the stereotypes and social stigma associated with their success.13 Social and Emotional Issues Faced by Gifted Girls in Elementary and Secondary School by Sally Reis. 2011 http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/social-and-emotional-issues-faced-by-gifted-girls-in-elementary-and-secondary-school 11

Parent Influences on the Mathematics Self-Concept of High Ability Adolescent Girls by Margie N. Dickens, Dewey G. Cornell. http://jeg.sagepub.com/content/17/1/53.short 12

The Role of Parents and Teachers in the Development of Gender-Related Math Attitudes by Elizabeth A. Gunderson, Ger ardo Ramirez, Susan C. Levine and Sian L. Beilock. 2012. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11199-011-9996-2 13

PISA 2012 results: The ABC of Gender Equality in Education: Aptitude, Behaviour, Confidence. http://www.oecd.org/pisa/ keyfindings/pisa-2012-results-gender.htm 14


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BENCHMARKING

During the former administration, our government was

NASA GIRLS is a virtual mentoring program using

focused on this problematic and had several action

commercially available video chat programs to pair

plans in place.

NASA mentors with young students anywhere in the

Launched in November 2009, the President’s Educate to Innovate 15 campaign features among its three core pillars a commitment to “expand STEM education and

country. NASA GIRLS gives young students the opportunity to interact and learn from real engineers, scientists, and technologists.16

career opportunities for underrepresented groups, in-

We the geeks is a Google hangout formerly hosted by

cluding women.” Working with teachers, businesses,

the Obama White House that highlighted the future of

philanthropists, foundations, non-profits, scientists, and

science, technology, and innovation in America through

engineers, the campaign has already attracted more

conversations with Administration officials and private-

than $700 million in financial and in- kind support and

sector contributors. They had several episodes featuring

partnerships that will help prepare more than 10,000

women scientist and role models.17

new math and science teachers. Sadly, all of these efforts are currently being cut by the current Trump presidency, leaving a gaping hole in governmental support.

15

https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/issues/education/k-12/educate-innovate

16

https://women.nasa.gov/about-nasa-girls/

17

https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2014/09/16/we-geeks-miss-america


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Based in the U.K. Wise is an organization that enables

Girls Who Code20 is a national non-profit organization

and energizes people in business, industry and educa-

dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology. They

tion to increase the participation, contribution and suc-

have a myriad of resources, programs and have seen a

cess of women in science, technology, engineering and

degree of success with currently 40,000 girls enrolled.

mathematics (STEM). 18 They have several toolkits, men-

This organization, however, is very focused on the “tech-

tor programs and other resources on their site.

nology” side of STEM. Their efforts do not include traditional science fields like Biology, Chemistry, Engineering, Physics or Mathematics.

Verizon Innovative Learning is a comprehensive effort from a private corporation that encourages young kids —and girls in particular— to have access and pursue STEM fields. They started the campaign with the ad “Inspire Her Mind” which was viral in 2014.19

18

https://www.wisecampaign.org.uk/about-us

19

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQXZ_g2d5ao

20

https://girlswhocode.com/about-us/


Girls in STEM

Goldieblox21 is a children’s multimedia and toy company. They pride themselves in challenging gender stereotypes with the world’s first girl engineer children’s character. Through the integration of storytelling and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) principles, GoldieBlox creates toys, books, apps, videos, animation and merchandise; the tools that empower girls to build their confidence, dreams and ultimately, their futures. Their target audience is young girls in elementary school, with their products firmly placed in the “under 10” age range.

21

https://www.goldieblox.com/pages/about

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Girls in STEM

Girlstart22 is an organization founded in 2017. They t design and implements informal STEM education programs for girls. Among their efforts are: Girlstart Summer Camp, After School, an Annual conference, Starry nNights planetarium, DeSTEMber and Community STEM. In particular the Camp alternatives are for girls in 6th to 9th grade. The camp is in Austin TX (where the majority of this organization’s activities are located), and costs $350. Most other programs are aimed at younger girls, no older than 6th grade.

Go Science Girls 23 is a blog established by an Aus tralian family that houses activity ideas, diaries and pictures. This type of content can be easily found in Pinterest and other sharing sites.

22

http://girlstart.org/about-us/

23

https://gosciencegirls.com/about/

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THOUGHT LEADERSHIP

AGREEMENT

DISAGREEMENT

The scientific community and social researchers in their

There is a reaction movement, reinforced by the cultural

vast majority agree that men and women have similar

shift created by the Trump administration, that seeks to

capabilities in STEM subjects.

reinforce patriarchal structures in society.

Mainstream public opinion seems to be pretty much in

Men’s Right’s Activists, Alt-Right leaders and other fringe

accordance that academic encouragement is desirable

pundits are trying to promote the idea that women don’t

for young girls.

belong in the work force, especially in STEM. There are

Retailers and toy makers have been recently introducing changes: Target and their elimination of gendered isles,

several articles in the ultra-right extremist publication Breitbart that champion this idea.

Barbie and their diverse new line of dolls, etc. These

Online spaces like Reddit and 4Chan create breeding

changes seem to reflect a change in mentality towards

grounds for these groups; they seek lonely young men

women and their role in society.

and slowly radicalize them.


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GAPS AND OPPORTUNITIES

GAPS

OPPORTUNITIES

The end of the Obama administration has created a void

There is a heightened social awareness around this is-

in many government-funded projects and resources.

sue. Social media backlash scandals —#ILookLikeAn-

The existing Non-proft organizations are either small in scale (in both anticipationn and location) or focus on a very specific field of the STEM spectrum. Some of these efforts are very heavily academic in nature. This fact ignores the research that supports the social aspect of gender in science; a lot of these girls are

Engineer #distractinglysexy— in the recent years have created the perfect environment for this project. The lack of support in the current administration means that non-profit organizations and private corporations will be willing to invest as well as use this vacuum to their advantage.

dropping scientific pursuits due to peer pressure or lack

The existing organizations and campaigns are small and

of role models.

narrow. There is room in the STEM spectrum for a new

The programs that do offer successful role models are again, either very small, very specific or in the process of being defunded by the current administration.

angle or perspective that helps remedy the problematic.



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INSIGHTS

Many girls loose interest in STEM related subjects during Middle School. Friendship dynamics contribute to gendered patterns
 in science career aspirations. Women develop their concept of self through their relationships with others.

Background research  

And the process begins.  This document seeks to enlighten and guide this project. By gathering information, competitors, studies, books, et...

Background research  

And the process begins.  This document seeks to enlighten and guide this project. By gathering information, competitors, studies, books, et...

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