ERIC Identifier: ED324195
Publication Date: 1990-00-00
Author: Dunham, Penelope H.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Science Mathematics and Environmental
Education Columbus OH.
Procedures To Increase the Entry of Women in Mathematics-Related
Careers. ERIC/SMEAC Mathematics Education Digest No. 3.
The underrepresentation of women in mathematics related careers, long
an issue of equity and justice, has serious economic implications as the
United States faces a shortage of scientists, engineers, and mathematically
trained workers. In 1986 women constituted 49 percent of the nation's workforce,
but only 15 percent of employed scientists and engineers and 24 percent
of mathematicians. By the year 2000 the need for employees in quantitative
fields will be 36 percent higher than in 1986; however, the traditional
pool of white males, which supplies most scientists and engineers, will
shrink to just 15 percent of the new entrants into the workforce (National
Science Foundation, NSF, 1988).
Future demands for technological workers have prompted a national effort
to encourage all sectors of the population to consider careers in mathematics
and science (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, NCTM, 1989; NSF,
1988; Task Force, 1989).
WHAT FACTORS AFFECT PARTICIPATION IN MATHEMATICS-RELATED CAREERS?
Ethington and Wolfle (1988) identified the number of advanced mathematics
and science courses taken in high school as the strongest direct influence
on choice of a quantitative undergraduate major. But women often avoid
these advanced courses, reducing their career options.
Reasons for the underrepresentation of women in technical fields involve
a complex interaction of factors. Kenschaft (in press) lists 58 societal,
educational, and family customs affecting the participation of women in
mathematics, while Boswell (in Chipman, Brush, and Wilson, 1985) identifies
three sets of factors: external barriers, such as overt sex discrimination;
social pressures from parents and peers; and internal barriers, such as
negative attitudes toward mathematics. Lantz (in Chipman, Brush and Wilson,
1985) groups the variables by (1) cognitive beliefs (usefulness of mathematics
to one's educational or career goals), (2) affect (confidence, anxiety,
enjoyment), and (3) achievement (spatial ability, grades, test scores,
Males and females perform and participate equally in mathematics up
to adolescence. Girls then begin to exhibit less confidence in their mathematical
ability. Differential enrollment patterns appear by the Algebra II level,
when participation in mathematics first becomes optional. Performance differences
favoring males on problem solving and higher level mathematical tasks are
evident by high school age, although the differences are small and have
declined over the last 20 years (Linn and Hyde, 1989).
Tracking has a detrimental effect on females' participation in mathematics.
Students in lower tracks learn less mathematics and take fewer advanced
courses. Teachers recommend high-ability girls less often than high-ability
males for advanced placement (Oakes, 1990).
Attitudes toward mathematics, especially enjoyment, confidence, and
perceived usefulness of mathematics, influence persistence in mathematics
(Stage et al., in Klein, 1985). Males, more than females, classify mathematics
as a male domain. Adolescent girls, experiencing conflict between interests
in mathematics and science and desire for popularity, may forego mathematics
achievement to avoid male disapproval or think a career would interfere
with family responsibilities (Stallings, in Chipman, Brush, and Wilson,
1985). Research shows that women who choose professional careers tend to
be less traditional in their view of sex roles than women in nonprofessional
careers (Oakes, 1990).
Parental stereotyping of careers affects girls' perception of the usefulness
of mathematics. Parents have lower expectations for daughters than sons
and attribute their daughter's success in math and science more to effort
than ability (Eccles, in Chipman, Brush, and Wilson, 1985).
Counselors sometimes discourage girls from selecting advanced math or
science courses because of stereotypes of quantitative fields. Teachers'
perceptions and beliefs can affect students' goals and perception of their
own ability. Teacher encouragement has a positive influence on females'
mathematics participation, but teachers tend to treat boys and girls differently,
often to the detriment of girls' mathematics achievement (Fennema and Leder,
WHAT ARE SOME TYPES OF INTERVENTION PROGRAMS?
Intervention programs, both preventive and remedial, are necessary to
increase participation in mathematics-related careers. Preventive strategies,
stressing awareness of career opportunities, development of mathematical
knowledge and skills, and the importance of continued enrollment in mathematics
and science, can reach students, parents, teachers or counselors. Remedial
intervention programs target students who did not pursue advanced math
and science in high school.
Davis and Humphreys (1985) list five categories of intervention programs:
(1) short-term interventions, including one-day career conferences, workshops,
science fairs, or speakers; (2) printed and audiovisual products and exhibits;
(3) experiential learning, including internships and field placements;
(4) long-term efforts involving courses and curricula, retraining programs,
and support programs; and (5) teacher education programs, including inservice
and summer institutes to modify teacher attitudes and increase their skills.
WHAT DOES RESEARCH SAY ABOUT INTERVENTION STRATEGIES?
Research on the participation of women in mathematics has focused on
identification of variables influencing persistence. Systematic evaluation
of the impact of intervention programs on these variables is less common
The most effective age for intervention activities is pre-adolescence,
before negative attitudes appear. The number of students considering careers
in technical fields increases very little after ninth grade (Berryman,
in Oakes, 1990).
Research indicates that changes at the affective and achievement levels
have more effect on enrollment than those aimed at cognitive beliefs. Training
for spatial ability, which appears to have an experiential base, has been
especially effective (Linn and Hyde, 1989). Cognitive intervention increases
awareness but does not affect behavior (Lantz, in Chipman, Brush, and Wilson,
Long range programs are more effective in changing attitudes. One-day
events often stress negative aspects, do not involve active participation
and rarely address the reasons females do not take advanced courses (Lantz,
in Chipman, Brush, and Wilson, 1985).
Peers and older students are effective communicators to young girls,
as are adult males supportive of females' interest in mathematical careers.
Students sometimes have difficulty identifying with women conference speakers;
however, exposure to women in scientific careers over longer periods of
time, as teachers or through internships, does develop role models and
results in positive attitude changes (Tsuji and Ziegler, 1990).
Interventions aimed at students' parents, teachers, and counselors are
effective in changing attitudes (Oakes, 1990). Instruction in creating
gender-equitable classroom environments is an especially effective form
of teacher education intervention.
There is some support in the literature for sex-segregated classes in
mathematics and science, but Fox and colleagues (in Chipman, Brush, and
Wilson, 1985) think programs that maintain a "critical mass" of female
students effectively encourage participation.
Research indicates instructional techniques that reduce emphasis on
competitiveness are conducive to female achievement in mathematics (Tsuji
and Ziegler, 1990). Damarin (1990) recommends curriculum intervention involving
cooperative learning, hands-on activities, and solution of personally defined
problems. She urges teachers to confront sex bias directly through classroom
WHAT ARE SOME RESOURCES FOR INTERVENTION PROGRAMS?
Intervention programs in various formats are described in Davis and
Humphreys (1985), Malcolm (1984) and Task Force (1989). Davis and Humphreys
also suggest ways to evaluate effectiveness of intervention programs.
Lists of speakers, career brochures, and annotated resource bibliographies
are available from the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) or Women
in Mathematics Education (WME).
The Math/Science Network offers programs, publications, videotapes,
and other resources to encourage young girls to pursue interests in science.
Lawrence Hall of Science offers a variety of equity resources including
EQUALS (a teacher education program) and Family Math.
"Multiplying Options and Subtracting Biases," a set of videotapes and
facilitator's guide for use with students, teachers, parents, and counselors,
can be purchased from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics or
rented through WME.
Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM)
Wellesley, MA 02181
Lawrence Hall of Science
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720
2727 College Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94705
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)
1906 Association Dr.
Reston, VA 22091
Women in Mathematics Education (WME)
Mount Holyoke College
302 Shattuck Hall
South Hadley, MA 01075
Chipman, Susan F.; Lorelei R. Brush; and Donna M. Wilson, eds. Women
and Mathematics: Balancing the Equation. Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ,
Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics. National
Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Reston, VA, 1989.
Davis, Barbara G. and Sheila Humphreys. Evaluating Intervention Programs:
Applications from Women's Programs on Math and Science. Teachers College
Press, Columbia University, New York, 1985. ED 266 944.
Damarin, Suzanne. "Teaching Mathematics: A Feminist Perspective," Chapter
17 in Teaching and Learning: Mathematics in the 1990s, Thomas Cooney and
Christian Hirsch, eds., National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Reston,
Ethington, Corinna and Lee M. Wolfle. "Women's Selection of Quantitative
Undergraduate Fields of Study: Direct and Indirect Influences." American
Educational Research Journal, 25, 157-175, 1988.
Fennema, Elizabeth and Gilah Leder, eds. Mathematics and Gender. Teachers
College Press, Columbia University, New York, 1990.
Kenschaft, Patricia, ed. Winning Women into Mathematics. Mathematical
Association of America, Washington, DC, in press.
Klein, Susan, ed. Handbook for Achieving Sex Equity through Education,
Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD, 1985. ED 290 810.
Linn, Marcia and Janet Hyde. "Gender, Mathematics, and Science." Educational
Researcher, 18(8), 17-19, 22-27, 1989.
Malcolm, Shirley et al. Equity and Excellence: Compatible Goals. American
Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, DC, 1984. ED 257
National Science Foundation. Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering.
Washington, DC, 1988. ED 291 605.
Oakes, Jeannie. Lost Talent: The Underparticipation of Women, Minorities,
and Disabled Persons in Science, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA, 1990.
ED 318 640.
Task Force on Women, Minorities, and the Handicapped in Science and
Technology. Changing America: The New Face of Science and Engineering,
Final Report. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1989. ED
Tsuji, Gerry and Suzanne Ziegler. "What Research Says About Increasing
the Numbers of Female Students Taking Math and Science in Secondary School."
Scope, 4 (4), 1-4, February, 1990. ED 317 417.