It has been obvious for years that women are underrepresented in computer science, engineering, and mathematics jobs. Despite an increased focus on such careers and a willingness to accept women into such fields, not to mention a constant fight to reduce sexism in those same fields, women still aren’t taking these jobs. According to researchers in Israel, those girls’ elementary school teachers may be to blame.
The researchers aren’t saying that teachers are actively holding girls back, but that many have subconscious biases that are supporting boys’ interest in these fields while not supporting girls. The researchers followed three groups of students from sixth grade through the end of high school to see what was happening.
First, each was given a series of tests, which were graded objectively by people who did not know who the students were, and more subjectively by their teachers, who were familiar with the students. Objectively, girls outperformed boys in math and science, but they did a little worse than boys in the scores given by their teachers. It seems that teachers generally overestimated boys’ abilities and underestimated girls’ abilities. Following those children through high school, they found that the girls who were discouraged in elementary school generally did not pursue more difficult math and science courses, and turned their attention to other fields of study.
Although more studies will have to be performed to verify these findings, the findings are nonetheless revealing. Gender, and our notions about it, permeate society, and can impact those around us even when we don’t know it. Internalized concepts of gender roles can affect the way teachers grade, and this is unfair to their students. Girls are just as capable of pursuing an interest in computer science, but if they’re told at a young age that they don’t have the skill set to do so, why would they?