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Paving the Way for Women in STEM: How to Create More Inclusive Classrooms

by Rhea Shajan

On my first day in college walking to my math lecture hall, I was excited to learn about data and logic-- something that I found challenging yet fascinating. That feeling was short-lived however when I first stepped foot in the classroom. I scanned the large room, every seat taken by men. I warily scanned the crowd to find any women and found only five in the back of the room.

It was hard to ignore the imposter syndrome that started creeping in within the first few weeks. While I still liked the material being taught, I felt insecure about my own capabilities and my confidence was lacking. In group projects, I refrained from sharing my ideas in fear that they would automatically be turned down by all the men in my group. It was a constant internal struggle to fight against self-doubt and prove my intelligence so they could value my ideas.

This feeling I described, however, is a fairly common experience shared by many women in STEM. The gender disparity in these classrooms is pretty significant, even with some of the changes that have been made in the past few decades. While I do appreciate how more women are pursuing STEM careers, the change hasn't fully translated into the classrooms. There still are a lot fewer females than males taking STEM-related courses. This, I believe, should be addressed so that women don't get intimidated by this gender disparity and look the other way. I believe that what deters many women from the STEM field is the lack of representation and inclusion in STEM classrooms which in fact plays a big role down the line when the applicant pool for STEM careers has more men than women.

What the Research Says

A study from Edutopia highlights that girls perform as well as boys in math. Some points to consider:

  1. Nationally, math test scores for girls have been consistently equal to or within two points of boys in fourth and eighth grades over several years; middle school girls pass algebra at higher rates than boys.

  2. In science, girls perform on par with boys and enroll in advanced science and math courses at equal rates as they move into high school.

  3. A gender gap in participation starts to appear as girls take fewer of the more advanced STEM courses and tests as they get closer to college. This gap widens the longer girls are in school and is often compounded by issues of race and class