Women need a push to choose STEM majors

Recruiting community college women into STEM majors isn’t rocket science, according to Donna Milgram, who’s studied the issue at eight California community colleges. Personal encouragement from instructors or counselors is needed to get women to consider predominantly male science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs, Milgram, executive director of the Institute for Women in Trades, Technology and Science (IWITTS), told Community College Times.

 . . . women need to see—in posters, videos and career events with women actually working in STEM disciplines—what a typical day looks like for women employed as technicians in STEM workplaces.

Young women “need to understand what kind of jobs they can get,” Milgram says.

Feminizing STEM role models can be a turn-off, at least for middle-school girls, concludes a University of Michigan study  published in Social Psychological and Personality Science. From Ed Week‘s Inside School Research:

In the first experiment, 144 6th and 7th grade girls read articles about three successful female university students. In some cases these were overtly “girly,” wearing pink clothes and make-up and saying they like to read fashion magazines, while in other cases the students wore dark clothes and glasses and simply said they liked to read. The role models also either were specifically described as successful in a STEM field, math, engineering or biochemistry, or were reported as generally successful—for example called a “freshman star.”

The researchers found girls who read about the overtly female role models actually reduced the students’ reported interest, perceived ability and future expectations in math, and they showed less interest in taking math classes in high school and college than girls who read about role models in more neutral clothing or with non-STEM-specific achievements.

“Submitting STEM role models to Pygmalion-style feminine makeovers may do more harm than good,” the researchers concluded.