Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better: Fostering Equity in the Sciences

QUICK – in your head, picture a scientists. What did that image look like? I can probably guess: White man, Probably older, Wearing a Lab coat.

Like a certain someone….

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Our conceptions of science and scientists almost always manifest this way – not necessarily because we think only white men are scientists, but because that’s what most of our exposure to scientists is. There isn’t necessarily wrong with this thought, but rather with how and why that IS the thought usually have.

Why is it that 70 percent [of people] more readily associate “male” with science and “female” with arts than the reverse? Why is only 2.1% of the American Meteorological Society African-American? Why is the STE(A)M workforce nearly no more diverse than 15 years ago?

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Our implicit biases and stereotypes are the core reasons behind it. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who will flat out say to you “women/minorities shouldn’t be involved in science, they aren’t as good as it as white men” in science fields even though there are surely people that might think that way. Diversifying our work force pushes the boundaries of discovery and facilitates discovery and development through the presence of massively different points of view and worldviews.

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This white male hegemony is not only a product of our biases, but years of systemic oppression of others. Let’s dismantle these systems and develop a system of equity that allows a diverse group of scientists to grow and bring it with it a diverse set of ideas and discoveries.

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I know a woman in medical school who recounts her experiences of sexism to me nearly ever day. Why don’t we push women, racial and ethnic minorities, and LGBTQ+ individuals into sciences the same we do white boys at a young age? Really… WHY? There’s no real answer – so let’s change that. Just listen to the way Debbie Sterling talks about her experiences(s) being a woman in engineering:

The American Association of University Women recommends the following strategies for getting girls interested in science and engineering:

  • Spread the word about girls’ and women’s achievements in math and science.
  • Teach girls that intellectual skills, including spatial skills, are acquired.
  • Teach students about stereotype threat and promote a growth-mindset environment.
  • Talented and gifted programs should send the message that they value growth and learning.
  • Encourage children to develop their spatial skills.
  • Help girls recognize their career-relevant skills.
  • Encourage high school girls to take calculus, physics, chemistry, computer science, and engineering classes when available.
  • Make performance standards and expectations clear.

Is it getting better? Yes. Is it anywhere near good enough? No.

These same criteria can be applied to racial/ethnic minorities and LGBTQ+ youth as well – it’s not exclusive to women! Students are both discouraged from science growing up but also don’t have any idols to look up to – or at least don’t think they do. Alan Turing, Mae Jemison, G.W. Carver, and the late Stephen Hawking all serve as phenomenal role models for minority youth to get involved in ST(E)AM fields – don’t squander your students goals and aspirations!

Let’s, as teachers, create science learning environments where everyone can succeed. Where we encourage everyone to chase their goals and aspirations whatever they might be (as long as they’re legal of course). Where we don’t let a black girl feel discouraged about her goals to become a neurosurgeon because she doesn’t know of any that exist – push her to be the first she knows about.

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7 Responses to Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better: Fostering Equity in the Sciences

  1. grantcp says:

    Claire,

    I think it’s important to acknowledge that you can’t relate to every last detail of your students – especially those physically different from you. I think, though, that knowing and acknowledging that I experience things differently and have different experiences helps to bridge that invisible gap. It’s just important to create effective pedagogy that hits as many students as equitably as possible!

  2. grantcp says:

    Kate,

    It’s so hard to eliminate biases and I don’t really think that’s a possible goal, let alone a realistic one. But what I think we can do is become aware and conscious of the biases we have. If we can call ourselves out on situations wherein we might have/show our biases, then we can become better equipped to combat issues like this. And pretending we don’t have those biases is worse than not knowing we have them!

  3. grantcp says:

    Bailey,

    Thank you for all the kind words! I think we do our best to encourage students to pursue science and scientific careers, but one of the biggest challenge as AYA people is that by the time a lot of kids have gotten to us, they’ve already either been convinced or have convinced themselves that they aren’t interested in, aren’t good at, or shouldn’t do science. I don’t think our encouragement has to necessarily be explicit motivation, instead it can be subtle nudging through the way in which we teach. Instead of teaching to the world we live, teach to the world we want (if that makes sense) by constructing lessons and using teaching strategies that everyone can relate to and enjoy.

  4. bischowj says:

    Chris,
    Great Blog! I love how you lay out concrete actions on what we can do as teachers to help bridge the gap in this macro-problem! Representation is a huge issue in this day and age, and while it is better than it was, you’re right, it’s no where near where it needs to be. You outline strategies to encourage women to engage in the STEM field. What kinds of expectations should be stated in a classroom or a given project, and what ones should be implied? Any? Also, would you say the strategies for women are one in the same with minority groups? Great article again!

  5. creighcl says:

    Chris,
    I loved the amount of cartoons, pictures, and other visuals you included into the blog. It effectively broke up the writing portions while keeping it interesting and inviting. I loved the first hand experience brought into the blog by Debbie in the Ted talk, I thought it was an excellent video that showed the hardships, as well as the need to stay persistent, determined, and excited about one’s own ideas. As a white male yourself, how will you relate to your minority and female students that may be hesitant about working hard in STEM classes?

  6. yezierkl says:

    Hi Chris! Your second big statement in regards to implicit biases is so true. Most people aren’t intentionally segregating the STEM fields like you said. Of course, there will be people that believe that white men are the only group that can be successful, but most don’t think that way. It really is all about the ideologies and biases that have we hold and develop subconsciously. This is definitely going to be one of the most difficult things to change within society. How do you think that society can diminish these biases and ideologies? I love that you include that science teachers (and any other STEM subject) are the key to creating learning environments that are inclusive and inviting to all groups of students. Great blog to read. 🙂

  7. chastebm says:

    Chris, first I would like to say how much I enjoyed reading your blog. The title is awesome, and it really drew my attention in. The way you started the blog really puts everything in perspective about how some people think scientist look. The picture you used of the scientist is spot on. All the statistics about women and minorities in STEM are crazy. This shows just how STEM fields are not very diverse. The picture with all the people is awesome. The power economics is also a good example. The video also gives really good information about inspiring the next generation of female engineers and scientist. The section that gives the strategies is very informative. My favorite part of the blog is when you compared the amounts of women and minorities with a bachelor’s degree in science and engineering from 1993 – 2012. There has been an increase, but it is still not enough. Do you think teachers today are still encouraging all students to explore STEM or has the progress we have made just stopped? Overall great post!

    Bailey

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