Men are employed in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics occupations at twice the rate of women according to a 2013 survey by
But this isn't because girls are actually bad at math and science.
A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that elementary teachers are actually part of the problem.
Teachers Are Tougher On Girls
In the study, teachers graded the math tests of 11-year-olds and, on average, the scores were lower for girls. But, when different teachers graded the same tests anonymously, the girls performed far better (out-performing the boys in many cases.)
Dr. Edith Sand, one of the researchers, told American Friends of Tel Aviv University, that the issue wasn't overt and obvious sexism, but "unconscious discouragement."
The study goes on to say that the gender biases held by elementary school teachers have an “asymmetric effect” on their students — the boys’ performance benefits and girls’ performance suffers based on the teacher's biases. Boys do well because teachers believe they will, girls don't because teachers believe they won't.
Teachers Get What They Expect
Studies of what educators call "The Pygmalion Effect" have proven time and again that a teacher's expectations have a marked effect on student performance. Without that belief or support, students face greater challenges.
Because many little girls aren't given the same sort of encouragement toward math or science that boys are given, their early interest in the field fades in favor of things they are encouraged for.
Mary Lynn Realff, an Associate Professor at Georgia Tech University and a co-director of The Center for the Study of Women, Science, and Technology works with organizations that try to confront every day biases. She too says that most of these biases aren't of the conscious moustache-twirling variety. They just exist because of the way the individual was raised, the environment they grew up in and their lived experiences.
“If you don’t know you have biases, you can’t really do anything about it,” Realff told MTV News. “Even the most well-meaning conscientious person has biases.”
She said that studies show that both male and female teachers are less likely to call on female students to answer questions and are less likely to be recommended for honors and AP level classes — the gateway to careers in STEM. But when these same teachers are informed of these biases, most strive to do better and correct their mistakes, choosing their actions accordingly.
"A person is not a bad person for being biased," Realff said. "If you know you're biased and continue to act on your biases, then it becomes a problem."
She referenced a recent talk by Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, noting that there are three things young girls are lacking in their STEM education: interest, confidence and encouragement.
For teachers, she gives this advice: "You have to keep interest in the STEM field, build their confidence and encourage them to go further."