The STEM gap has often been described as a “leaky pipeline.” For those women who do pursue STEM fields, retention is a problem. From unsupportive (or even hostile) collegiate environments to the well documented “glass ceiling” of pay gaps and lack of advancement, women face challenges in the pursuit of STEM field careers, challenges that encourage them to look elsewhere for academic and professional fulfillment.
The STEM gap begins early on, prior to college and professional life, and for Indiana girls, measurable disparities do exist. Most notably, according to the College Board, of the 8,541 Indiana students who scored between 600 and 800 on the SAT math section in 2010, only 38.6% were female. In other words, over 60% of the top 25% of math scores belonged to boys. Furthermore, according to the national averages for 2010, girls who take the SAT test tend to score between 30 and 40 points lower on the math section than their male counterparts. In fact, the average female score has been lower than the average male score every year since 1972, the earliest year for which data is available!
These disparities could be excused by an inherent bias in standardized testing, but consider this—according to the Indiana Department of Education, boys and girls in the public school corporations of greater Indianapolis passed the math and science sections of the ISTEP+ exam at similar rates in spring 2011.
By high school, the test scores skew, and the pipeline starts to leak. The STEM gap begins and only grows worse. The burning questions for me are: How do we fix this leak? What tools can we give our girls to help them feel good about pursuing their interests and exploring the potential of STEM fields?
In the last post of this three-part series on female STEM involvement, I will summarize the consequences of the STEM gap with the latest research on women pursuing STEM fields as well as the ways in which Girls Inc. inspires the female scientists of tomorrow.