I would’ve been an excellent doctor...
I am compassionate, patient, careful, and a great listener. Also, I’m probably quite good at science and math. But, I’ll never know how good I could have been because I chose the language arts track in high school, opting for Italian and advanced writing courses over AP biology and chemistry.
[Why can’t I go back to school start all over again? Well, that’s a whole other topic for a different day: student loan crisis imminent!]
But, if I had had a childhood free of gender bias (my own and that of the world around me) I know my life right now would be very different. Why didn’t I choose a math and science focus in high school?
No, not 1956 or 1976…it was 2006. My childhood included the Spice Girls era of “Girl Power”, strong female movie scientists like Helen Hunt in Twister and Laura Dern Jurassic Park, and the rising awesomeness of Hilary Rodham Clinton.
So why didn’t I realize women could be anything they wanted to be?
Because even today society still doesn’t recognize that women can be just as good at STEM subjects as men. The NY Times published an article this week detailing a National Academy of Sciences study proving this very fact. Essentially, both men and women favor men and discriminate against women when it comes to hiring an individual to perform math- and science-based tasks.
It doesn’t matter how much we talk about how far women have come. It doesn’t matter that we might have a female president elected in 2016. It doesn’t matter how many women are leaning in, how many female CEOs are making the big bucks, and all those other stats post-feminists love to spout. They’re saying the glass ceiling has been shattered and we can move on to other poignant social causes. This is blatantly wrong, and proven so by the findings published this week.
I can’t say what or where the right answer is. It’s inside all of us and entrenched somewhere within our society. The solutions to gender bias lie in education, public policy, and family values. The answers are in our media where currently we have a tunnel-vision view of women as objects, sex symbols, and baby-makers…interrupted only by the occasional reprieve of a smart woman elected to Congress. Our children (girls AND boys) know too many sexy teenagers’ names and not enough Elizabeth Warrens.
It would be interesting to know how many business leaders first noticed the Times’ article, secondly read the entire text, thirdly passed it on to a colleague for discussion and finally, actively reflected on their company’s own track record and... made active changes in future hiring practices.
Unfortunately, we can say with certainty not many people took any or all of those steps to change. This isn’t the first study of its kind to be published. There is a lengthy and complex history of gender bias in this country. Here is a very small, 41 year snapshot:
2013: Yale published a similar study about female scientists, detailed in an article by the NY Times titled: "Why Are There Still So Few Women In Science?".
2010: American Association of University Women published a report titled: "Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics".
1995: Failing At Fairness: How Our Schools Cheat Girls is published, a research-based analysis of the US educational systems’ gender bias.
1980: It was deemed necessary to pass The Science and Engineering Equal Opportunities Act, which made equal opportunity for men and women in education, training, and employment in sci-tech fields.
1972: Title IX is enacted, protecting students from sex-based discrimination in educational programs and activities.
Over forty years and what do we have to show for it? An article published this week that states both men and women would choose to hire a man over an equally or more qualified woman.
What are your reactions to the study published this week? What steps has your company taken to combat gender bias in its hiring process?