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Women far outnumbered in scientific fields

WEDNESDAY, MAY 14, 2014 10:13 AM

Society has made significant strides in gender equality, but certain unbalances still exist. A new report released by the L'Oreal Foundation highlighted a gender gap in the field of science, where the workforce is made up of three times as many men as women. The report also noted that this discrepancy is largely perpetuated by gender stereotypes. While the gap is most obvious at the undergraduate level, the root of the problem goes much deeper and sprouts far earlier than that. Fortunately, the status quo does not have to persist. 

Tracking the problem backward
Something must motivate women to choose other tracks if fewer select a scientific degree program upon entering college than men. In fact, only 32 percent of undergraduate science degrees are earned by women. The report noted that women perform just as well as men in high school science. That fact rules out any ideas of inability. If women can excel in science, but choose not to, there must be some other factor. The L'Oreal Foundation pointed to gender stereotypes that dissuade girls from entering scientific fields at a young age. 

"That's in part because there still persist very negative stereotypes around women in science, and that's discouraging for high school girls," Laurie Glimcher, dean of the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, told U.S. News and World Report. 

Glimcher also noted that although the gender gap becomes obvious at the collegiate level, it begins before high school.

Closing the gap
The consequences of such a gap are tremendous. The report revealed that as you look further down the scientific career path, you see fewer and fewer women. Only 30 percent of master's and 25 percent of doctorate degrees in science are awarded to women. Just 11 percent of top academic positions are held by females, and a miniscule 3 percent of Nobel Prizes have been awarded to women.

"If the world is to meet the scientific challenges of the 21st century, we must challenge deeply-rooted stereotypes and develop a stronger, more robust pipeline of young scientists to help us innovate every single day," Sara Ravella, chief executive officer of the L'Oreal Foundation, said in a statement.

And that has to start early. Girls should be encouraged at a young age to pursue scientific endeavors previously pushed on males. Instead of telling girls to marry a doctor, why not tell them to become one? Schools that have adopted the Common Core State Standards are trying to help all students develop a foundation in math and science. However, having a stronger education system doesn't necessarily end gender stereotypes. Fortunately, programs such as the L'Oreal Foundation encourage girls to reach for the stars.