A Big Obstacle for Females in Science and Technology

The world needs more females in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

U.S. women constitute 50 percent of the college-educated workforce, but only 29 percent of science and engineering occupations (National Science Board, data from 2013).  And this is after rates doubled from the previous two decades.

It’s bad enough when women face discrimination and gender bias.  But a new study finds even more troubling news:

Girls begin to doubt their own intelligence as young as six years old.

In the study, children aged 5-7 were told a story about a “really, really smart” (and genderless) person.  They were then asked to guess whom the story was about.  Five-year-old boys and girls picked their own gender in equal measures.  But six-year-old girls were more likely to pick a male as the brilliant hero.

Similarly, children aged 6-7 were asked to choose between either a game for “children who are really, really smart” or for “children who try really, really hard.”  Girls were less interested than boys in the “smart” game.

The researchers did not examine why this change occurs.  “Nevertheless,” they conclude, “the present results suggest a sobering conclusion: Many children assimilate the idea that brilliance is a male quality at a young age.  This stereotype begins to shape children’s interests as soon as it is acquired and is thus likely to narrow the range of careers they will one day contemplate.”

At Agilent, we value diversity in our workforce and in the communities we serve.

The Agilent After School program provides hands-on science kits to school-aged children to help them develop a love for science.  AAS has reached more than half a million boys and girls in 17 countries.  The program is managed and implemented by employees.  It has been taught in schools, hospitals and even wilderness science camps.

In some U.S. regions, AAS has developed a merit patch for Girl Scouts, a national program that builds courage, confidence and character in young girls.  To earn the patch, a scout must complete three Agilent After School science kits, as well as a service project activity and a career exploration activity.  By completing additional kits, a girl can advance from “Novice” to “Enthusiast,” “Apprentice” and finally “Blossoming Scientist.”

AAS Patch

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