In most universities there are more male students than female students on science courses. What is the reason for this? What could be done to balance out the numbers?
In higher education, science subjects are typically dominated by male students. This negatively impacts the world of work, as fewer females then go into the science, technology and engineering sectors. This essay will explore the reasons for the lack of gender diversity in science and suggest ways to create equal opportunities in this area.
The most likely reason for the imbalance is that society reinforces the idea that boys and girls have different interests and abilities. We see this from a very early age when little boys are given cars and Lego while girls get dolls. The former are encouraged to build things whereas the latter learn to care for others. Later on, we are told that girls are better at languages or boys have better spatial awareness. In fact, there is no evidence that biological differences between the sexes make one gender more talented than another at a particular subject. It is society, not nature, that tells us girls should favour arts and humanities and leave maths and physics to the boys.
Coupled with this is the lack of positive female role models youngsters see doing science-related jobs. Cartoons and stories often show the crazy scientist, genius inventor, or adventurous astronaut as a man. Furthermore, there is an unfortunate perception that scientists are geeky, have poor social skills or that their work is lonely and detached from the rest of the world. These are false stereotypes portrayed by the media, but they may mean that girls do not identify with scientists, and see science as an unappealing career path. If girls saw more positive female role models in science it would give them more confidence and a greater sense of belonging in those subjects.
Given these points, it is important to tackle this issue right from a child's early education. By the time young women are at university, it may already be too late to disprove the view that science is 'not for them'. Hence, for very young children gender-neutral play needs to be encouraged. As children get older, both the education system and the media must raise awareness of female achievements in the field of science, as well as exposing them to a more diverse set of characters in books and films. We need to find ways to show young girls that science is fun, interesting, and, most importantly, theirs too.