Thursday, July 24, 2008

I could've told them this

A new study from researchers at the University of Wisconsin has revealed a very unsurprising result -- that women are just as good at math as men.

For my entire educational career, I've known many women who have been excellent math and science scholars, and many men who are not. Yet there still is a pervasive attitude in our society that science, math and technology are areas for men and boys to explore, not women. How pervasive is this attitude? If you go to an elementary school class and ask them to draw what they think an astronomer looks like, the vast majority of kids will draw a male astronomer.

Yet roughly one-quarter of all astronomers are female (source: Pasadena Recommendations from the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy), though this number is, in and of itself, unacceptably low. Gender inequality still exists in astronomy hiring and advancement, but this is not due to a lack of skills or ability -- it's due to lingering cultural issues.

It's a shame that studies like the University of Wisconsin study are needed to show that there is no gap in ability. It is a shame that our society still continues to imply that science and technology are not appropriate for women. It's time to move on and to avoid teaching our kids these stereotypes. Alas, that's easier said than done.

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