News / Science & Technology

University Biases Keep Women, Minorities Out of Science Careers

Poor schools, stereotypes, workplace & classroom barriers hold people back

Mae Jamison, former astronaut [left], promotes science literacy across the United States to produce more scientists and educate young people with a basic level of science and technology understanding.
Mae Jamison, former astronaut [left], promotes science literacy across the United States to produce more scientists and educate young people with a basic level of science and technology understanding.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

Mae Jemison has accomplished many things in life. She is a chemical engineer, medical doctor, college professor, and in 1992, became the first African-American woman astronaut to blast into space.

New mission

Jemison now runs her own medical technology company, BioSentient Corporation. She's also a spokesperson for Bayer Corporation's science outreach program.

Each year since 1995, the company has commissioned a survey on science literacy and workplace issues. This year, it polled 1,200 women and minority chemists and chemical engineers. Careers in science, technology, engineering and math are collectively known as STEM.

"I think that survey shows that, as minorities and women pursue a STEM career, they have to face a number of barriers along the  pipeline and what we need to do as a society is really understand what these roadblocks are," says Jemison.

While women and minorities make up two-thirds of the American workforce, they represent less than 25 percent of STEM careers. The survey cites poor schools, lack of quality science and math programs, persistent negative stereotypes, financial cost and school and workplace bias as the reasons why.

Early interest

Jemison says the survey also finds children are interested in science at an early age.

"That means is that kids come out of the chute excited about the world around them. They are interested in what is going on but hit roadblocks. They are really derailed from their track to becoming professional scientists by academic systems and societies that are neither color blind nor gender blind."

Nearly two-thirds of those polled said women and minorities in STEM careers are under-represented in their companies or institutions. Forty percent said they were discouraged from pursuing their chosen career, typically in college and often by their professors, an experience Jemison remembers from her undergraduate days.

She says her professors were less than enthusiastic to see her in class. "It ranged from looking at me when I would ask a question as though something was very strange and then some other student would ask the same question and the teacher would say, 'This is an astute observation.'"

"Why so Few?" finds climates in university science and engineering departments limit women's participation and progress in science and technology fields.

Big gap

Despite a gradual increase in women graduating with undergraduate and graduate degrees in science fields, the gap between men and women remains significant in the U.S. workplace.

That's according to a second report released this week by the American Association of University Women. "Why So Few?" compiles academic research from the last 15 years. Its findings underscore the social and cultural bias and barriers in higher education reported by the chemists and engineers in the Bayer survey.

Co-author Andresse St. Rose says, for example, while girls earn high school math credits at the same rate as boys, the myth that girls aren't good at math is persistent and powerful.

"Because of that negative stereotype, girls are more likely to believe that they are less able in math compared to boys who have similar grades and tests scores in math," says St. Rose.

But she is hopeful the situation can be reversed. "We believe that people can reset their biases by taking a proactive step, choosing to educate themselves more about women in these fields, by putting up positive images of women in science in their classrooms and in their homes."

The AAUW report recommends steps to raise awareness about girls' achievement and interest in science, and to get colleges to attract and keep more female students and faculty. St. Rose says all sectors of the community must implement these initiatives in order for them to be successful including, "kindergarten through 12th grade  teachers and guidance counselors, college and university administrators and certainly employers and policymakers."

Former astronaut Mae Jemison agrees. She says stronger science programs in schools and colleges will not only put more women and minorities in science fields, but also fuel a more literate democracy.

You May Like

Islamic State Survivor: A Yazidi Girl's Tale

Sarah Said Haydar, captured a year ago while fleeing Islamic State onslaught in northern Iraq, was so traumatized by militants, she sought to end her own life More

EU, US Applaud Kosovo Law on Special Court

Joint statement says lawmakers' decision to address allegations of war crimes 'demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and to honor international agreements' More

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Tradei
X
Robert Carmichael
August 04, 2015 3:07 PM
Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Trade

Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship. Zlatica Hoke reports the decision is hard for many Palestinians who say they have to be pragmatic about it.
Video

Video With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Still Mired In Controversy

Voter ID laws have sparked controversy across the US. More than 30 states enacted laws requiring citizens to show identification before they vote. Against fierce opposition, the state of Wisconsin recently enacted one the most restrictive voter ID laws in country. As Jeff Swicord reports, no one can predict its impact as the 2016 election nears.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Hailed as Highly Effective

At last, there's a way to end the suffering from the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for more than a year. Researchers say the vaccine is so effective, there may never be a major outbreak of Ebola again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs