The Socialization of Women in Math: Who’s aware?

Sydney PhillipsStudent staff member Sydney has had a rocky relationship with math throughout her life. As a graduate student in the Applied Sociology program at UMBC she began to rethink her relationship with math through her statistics courses and with the support of her (Women!) professor and TA.

On Thursday September 14, the Women’s Center hosted their first fall roundtable on the topic of Women in Tech. I was there to listen and also write the roundup for the Women’s Center.

Women in Tech Flyer - printAlthough I am not a woman in the STEM field, a lot of what was shared really resonated with me and led to a reflection about my relationship with math. Let me start by saying it’s not a positive relationship. I’ve always struggled with math, I feel like it takes me longer than others, my professors (read: male professors) have always seen me as a burden, and now just thinking about it gives me anxiety. I’m talking “I don’t understand anything on this page, I’m going to fail this test, I’m going to fail this class, and I’m never going to get a job and my life is over” types of anxiety.

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I used to say I hated math because I thought I was bad at it, but the roundtable really made me reflect on if this is true or if I’ve just been socialized to believe this. I never thought I was a person who was bad at math; I thought I was bad at math because I was a woman.

https://xkcd.com/385/

Comic from XKCD

Even as a graduate student who passed all of her undergraduate math classes and received an A in graduate level statistics (make note, I had women professors), I still think I’m inherently bad at math, which makes NO sense. This problem exists outside of my experiences as well and is reflected in the disparities between men and women in the STEM fields. For example, although more women are awarded bachelor’s degrees than men, only 17% of computer science graduates are women.

My reflection made me want to reach out to other women to see what their experiences with math were and if this socialization process affected their relationship with math at all. Like many other quests into knowledge, this one did not go quite as planned, but still I received a lot of feedback that included some key themes I think are important.

The first theme is that those who struggled with math or felt as if they were being told they were bad at math, began to feel this way from a VERY early age (most respondents reported between first grade and early middle school). Young girls who were working out math problems were told that if they didn’t understand it right away that they never would and they should basically give up.

The other theme was that most of these comments (or in some cases just dirty looks) came from male teachers. Not only were women being socialized through verbal interactions to believe they were bad at match, they were also aware of the nonverbal interactions between themselves and their male teachers that added to this thought. The patriarchy is alive and well in the classroom y’all.

Here are some responses:

I was talking with a classmate trying to figure out what a problem meant when the teacher came up to us, yelled at us for distracting our classmates, and that if we didn’t understand it – we wouldn’t ever get it. – Rachel (22).

2nd grade, the teacher said I just wasn’t up to it -Jamie (24)

A college professor told me before the class even started that I was either going to fail or drop out of the class, I ended up passing the class with a high B just to prove him wrong -Jill (23)

Most of the women who wrote about these negative experiences also expressed that their negative relationship with math has continue throughout their lives. In terms of their current feelings, they expressed feelings of doubt and anxiety when doing math, or even a complete avoidance of math in life altogether.

I hate it. I’m super intimidated by it. The thought of having to help my daughters with their math homework in the future, terrifies me! -Marie (38)

Some of the women who had negative experiences early on did end up having a good relationship with math later on. Some women have always had good experiences with math. The one common denominator between these positive math women was: a support system, and most of the time this support system was made up of other women (women teachers, Mom’s who worked in the field, etc.).

I had a teacher, Ms. Raden… I don’t know if it was her approach or the fact that she was a woman that made me more comfortable.  I took more advanced classes and eventually got a degree where match and equations are big.- Darcy (31).

My algebra 1 teacher went out her way to encourage girls. -Debbie (55)

I think the support I’ve had from my parents encouraging me to pursue math and science in my career has helped me to not feel inadequate in my mathematical abilities. -Caitlin (25).

Most of the responses I gleaned seemed to be aware of the stereotype of women being bad at math and science. Thus, while I expected emotional answers, I was not prepared for the amount of angry responses I received… which were directed at the survey itself and me. A lot of women took offense that I would “assume” they were bad at math or that their experiences were negative. They had never encountered the problem I was bringing up and therefore didn’t think it was an issue on a larger scale either. I have pretty thick skin, but to be honest, shifting through 30 responses with a large amount being very passionate about why I was wrong hit me hard. I immediately wanted to defend myself but also didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t know how to move forward with the blog or get out the message I was originally trying to convey. At first I just wanted to ignore these responses and focus on my original goal, but after reflecting (again) and getting input from coworkers and an amazing supervisor (Thanks Amelia!) I decided I needed to face what was making me uncomfortable head on.

I think it is important to note that women have a variety of experiences, and all of them are valid. While a lot of women have great experiences with math it is also a fact that there are large disparities in the gender makeup of people in STEM fields and that many women have had negative experiences. I want to foster a space as well as a society where all women’s voices are heard but also not at the expense of women with differing stories. Some experiences are good and some are bad but the consequences of a society that largely labels women at a disadvantage are very real. Although women’s involvement is on the rise, there are still barriers that need to be addressed in order for a more equitable field (and society) to emerge.

To the women in STEM fighting against these barriers, I thank you! To the women who feel comfortable in their own skin around math, I envy you! To the women who avoid math at all costs, I understand you! And to the women who can feel their blood pressure rising just when the word is uttered, I am with you!

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On Campus Resources:

UMBC Center for Women in Technology

More about the issue:

Women and Math: The Gender Gap Bridged

Women in Math, Science, & Medicine: Still Work to be Done

The Truth About Gender and Math

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Women in Tech: A Roundtable Round-Up

A resource roundup provided by Women’s Center student staff member, Sydney

Women in Tech Flyer - print

Each month the Women’s Center hosts a roundtable discussion where we provide a few chosen panelists with guiding questions and then have a community discussion about a particular topic and how it intersects with women and gender. Roundtables are great opportunities to become involved in discourse and ask questions directly to those involved. On Thursday, September 15th The Women’s Center hosted our September roundtable, Women in Technology. In case you missed it or are interested in revisiting the topics, here is a summary of our discussion. At the end, we include some links to reading materials and additional resources.

We started off the session by discussing some relevant statistics regarding women college students who are pursuing STEM degrees and careers. Women earn 57.3% of all Bachelor’s degrees but only account for 17.9% of the degrees in Computer Science.

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Source: careerfoundry.com

When it comes to the workforce, women make up a small percentage of the tech jobs. And even a smaller percentage of those in leadership positions!

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Source: statista.com, 2014

And although women only make up a small percentage of tech jobs at these companies, women use these platforms more than men!

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After addressing some of the statistics about the discrepancies surrounding women in STEM fields, we heard from our panel about their experiences in academia and the tech industry.

Dr. Danyelle Ireland who is the Associate Director of the Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) and Dr. Marie desJardins, the Associate Dean of  College of Engineering and Information Technology here at UMBC, talked about why there is such a small number of women pursuing STEM. They set out to debunk the myth of a “lack of interest” surrounding technology for women and instead pointed out social factors that contribute to the low numbers. These included:

  • A lack of awareness of jobs or role models
  • The socialization that STEM is for men reaffirmed by video game and tech advertisements. Specifically, Dr. desJardins’ shared that when personal computers first began to be marketed to the general public in the 1980s, advertisements only focused on men as the would-be-users of this new technology.
  • Bias and discrimination that women may face in the workforce.
  • A hypercritical culture in which women constantly critique their own work.
  • The introduction of AP computer science classes in high schools which women students did not think was their space and a discrepancy of life goals between men and women.
  • The Innate Brilliance Model
  • And performance perception in which women are much harsher on their own performance compared to men’s self-perception.

We then heard from our last panelist, Katie Dillon, who is a UMBC CWIT student majoring in computer science. Katie discussed the importance of seeing women in her classes and how, in her experience, CWIT has created a more women-friendly climate in her tech classes. She then talked about her experiences in the tech industry and the sexism she faces as a woman intern in the tech industry. These instances ranged from being mistaken for a secretary (and not the engineer she in fact was) to being told she only got her position only because she is a woman.

We ended our discussion with each panelist giving participants their advice on how to handle workplace sexism or discrimination. There were two common theme throughout the answers – making connections  and knowing your limits. For women in tech it is important to surround yourself with allies, whether that be a mentor or fellow women employees, in order to have a soundboard if an issue was to arise. Knowing your reporting guidelines is also important (for example, “Can you report an instance of sexism anonymously at your workplace?”). The last piece of advice the panelists gave was to know what you stand for. Dr. Ireland made a point to tell the audience that it is not worth compromising yourself for a degree or a job and Dr. desJardins gave the advice that people respect when you are unapologetically yourself. Katie also made the great point that you are interviewing a company just as much as they are interviewing you – don’t be afraid to find out what they are willing to do for you!

Below are some resources surrounding Women in Tech: 


For further reading:

 

Be sure to follow the Women’s Center on myUMBC to stay tuned for our next round table event in October!

Women’s History Month CWIT Spotlight: Natacha Ngea

March is Women’s History Month!

Three  years ago Women’s History Month’s national theme was “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” The theme honored generations of women who throughout American history have used their intelligence, imagination, sense of wonder, and tenacity to make extraordinary contributions to the STEM fields. At UMBC we honored this theme by partnering with the Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) to feature some of their amazing students participating in technology in the engineering and information technology fields. While the theme for Women’s History Month changes every year, we have come to love the tradition in spotlighting the stories of UMBC’s CWIT women. So with that, we are honored to bring you the 3rd Annual CWIT Showcase in honor of Women’s History Month.

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Natacha Ngea
Computer Engineering
CWIT  Scholar & Newcombe Scholar

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Meet Natacha Ngea! A CWIT Scholar and computer engineering major.

Describe what sparked your interest STEM and the journey to choosing your major.

I have always been interested in Science and Technology. My favorite classes were biology, chemistry and Mathematics. I still remember how excited I was to perform experiments with test tubes. In my country of origin, Cameroon, you specialize in high school and your admittance in College depends on what you graduate in. I was placed in Modern Languages. It never felt right. When I got the opportunity to come to the US, I decided to use that chance to finally do what I always wanted to do. In order to do so, though, I needed to pay my way to school and fill the gap I had in technology so I had so I enrolled in a professional certificate at Howard Community College (HCC). My first class was a computer repairs class. I loved it. I wanted to know how computers work. My professor knew so much on the topic that I asked him what was his background was in. He told me he was a mechanical engineer. That is when I started thinking about getting a degree in engineering. After meeting with my advisor, I took some tests and I enrolled in a second degree in engineering. After physics I, I knew mechanical engineering was not the right fit for me but I found out there was a computer engineering program. I read the curriculum and I was sold. In the meantime, I was invited to join the STEM community at HCC. Through this program, I grew more and more confident. I also joined the Computer/Network support team as an intern. I discovered that I liked troubleshooting and taking things apart. I learned a lot there. I am a visual learner and English is not my first language so being able to relate a concept I learned in class with an application I encountered through my internship was great. After an A.A.S in Computer Support Technology and an A.A in Computer Science, I transferred to UMBC in fall 2014 to pursue a degree in Computer Engineering and I also work for DoIT as a network technician. Continue reading

Women’s History Month CWIT Spotlight: Rachel Cohen

March is Women’s History Month!

Three  years ago Women’s History Month’s national theme was “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” The theme honored generations of women who throughout American history have used their intelligence, imagination, sense of wonder, and tenacity to make extraordinary contributions to the STEM fields. At UMBC we honored this theme by partnering with the Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) to feature some of their amazing students participating in technology in the engineering and information technology fields. While the theme for Women’s History Month changes every year, we have come to love the tradition in spotlighting the stories of UMBC’s CWIT women. So with that, we are honored to bring you the 3rd Annual CWIT Showcase in honor of Women’s History Month.

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Rachel Cohen
Computer Science
CWIT  Scholar

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Meet Rachel Cohen! A CWIT Scholar and computer science major.

Describe what sparked your interest STEM and the journey to choosing your major.

When I first decided to attend UMBC as a freshman, I originally declared my major as biochemistry. In high school, I had always excelled in my science and math classes and knew that I wanted to major in something that would allow me to hone in on those skills. After taking the gateway biology and chemistry courses, I came to the realization that I wasn’t exceedingly passionate about what I was studying, so I decided to switch my major to computer science. Having no prior experience in the subject, I was a bit hesitant to make such a drastic switch. I knew that computer science was a prevalent field with a great number of job opportunities, so I knew that if I were able to develop the skills needed to get the computer science degree, I would have a successful future ahead of me. Since switching to computer science after freshman year, I haven’t looked back! Continue reading

CWIT Spotlight: Elyse Hill

March is Women’s History Month!

Three  years ago Women’s History Month’s national theme was “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” The theme honored generations of women who throughout American history have used their intelligence, imagination, sense of wonder, and tenacity to make extraordinary contributions to the STEM fields. At UMBC we honored this theme by partnering with the Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) to feature some of their amazing students participating in technology in the engineering and information technology fields. While the theme for Women’s History Month changes every year, we have come to love the tradition in spotlighting the stories of UMBC’s CWIT women. So with that, we are honored to bring you the 3rd Annual CWIT Showcase in honor of Women’s History Month.

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Elyse Hill
Mechanical Engineering
CWIT  Scholar

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Meet Elyse Hill! A CWIT Scholar and mechanical engineering major.

Describe what sparked your interest STEM and the journey to choosing your major.

My interest in STEM was sparked in middle school by my mother. I had a heavy interest in architecture at the time and my mom suggested to me that I should look into pursuing the math and science behind the architecture. That led me to look into engineering, which I found to be a very broad field. In the summer of my 10th grade year, I went to an Exploring Engineering camp at the University of Maryland, College Park where I was exposed to the many disciplines in engineering that UMD had to offer. After coming to UMBC, I decided on mechanical engineering because I found that it was the most versatile of the engineering programs we offer here.

Tell us about an internship, research experience or project that you are proud of.

Last summer, I studied abroad in Lille, France at the Catholic University of Lille. There, many other students and myself engaged in culture classes, french classes, and discipline-specific classes (I took a solar energy course) while getting to experience French and European culture. I was very proud of this experience because I got to successfully apply the language I studied in high school while immersing myself in a foreign culture. The day I was the proudest was the day I wandered around the city of Brussels all by myself with only my map and a language I barely spoke as my tools.

Who are your role models in the engineering or IT field? How have their stories influenced your educational or career goals.

I have many role models in my major, the most impactful of which have beenUMBC’s  Dr. Maria Sanchez and Dr. Anne Spence. Recently, I’ve developed an interest in the field of engineering education, something both Dr. Spence and Dr. Sanchez do research in and hold a passion for. When I discussed this field with each of them, they expressed to me their own opinion on the subject and how it is a rising field of great importance. Since hearing their explanations, I have been more motivated to consider the field as a research topic for graduate school. Thanks to an email from Dr. Spence, I found out about an REU focused on engineering education that I applied for and got accepted to for this summer. In addition to their advice, just them being women in engineering is influential to me, and motivates me to become a college professor who inspires students, just as they have inspired me.

Continue reading

A Feminist, Who Knew?

Carrie Profile PicA post written by Women’s Center student staff member, Carrie Cleveland

I have never been one to label myself a feminist. I think it is because what comes into my mind when I think of feminism is the 1960s – 1970s pop culture version where women were marching in the street and burning their bras (come to find out that this idea in my head is actually a myth). I never really identified with those women, so I pushed the topic to the side. THEN….. I started working here in the Women’s Center.

As a staff member, we are all encouraged to actively learn and one of the ways that I’m doing that is by reading. My background on all things feminism is much more  grounded in pop culture than it is theory. I’ve never taken a Gender and Women’s Studies class, like so many of my Women’s Center peers. Sometimes I struggle with the language and the theory so we thought this would be a good way for me to start my learning. Jess suggested that I dip my toe into the feminist blogosphere and start with some more approachable topics and accessible authors. As I’m reading and clicking and getting lost in all things women, I came across this blog written by Jamie Kennedy titled 10 Things Feminist Moms Do Differently Than Any Other Parents.

As I was scrolling, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. One of the first ideas the author presents is about disrupting gender norms. Now I have three girls and a VERY handy husband. He’s always building or fixing something so we did not hesitate to get my kids a tool set when they were little. When my husband was beginning a project, my daughter would run down and grab her hammer so she could help her dad with something. Perhaps these experiences are why she sees being a scientist and an astronaut as career options. I never thought of that as feminist idea, more so that she wanted to hang out with her dad. Look at that! I did not even know I was challenging gender norms. Go me!  Continue reading

UMBC Women Who Rock: Rehana Shafi

UMBC Women Who Rock is a blog series I’m working on throughout the 2014-15 academic year (and now perhaps beyond). In my role as Women’s Center director, I have some of the best opportunities to become acquainted with some of UMBC’s best and brightest women on campus. I admire the ways they live authentic lives unapologetically that challenge the stereotypes and assumptions that are often assigned to women. By debunking these stereotypes and forcing us to check our assumptions, they allow us to expand our notion of what a woman is and can be.

-Jess

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UMBC Women Who Rock!
Rehana Shafi, Director of the Sherman STEM Teacher Scholars Program

In the few UMBC Women Who Rock blog posts I’ve written over the past year, I end with the same paragraph every time. I ask my readers about which UMBC women inspire them and how the counter narratives they’re sharing with us allow UMBC and our greater community to be more of exactly who we want to be. I absolutely love the power of counternarratives and their ability to expose assumptions and reveal complexities and depth. And, while it’s so important to emphasize the counternarratives, after connecting with Rehana Shafi earlier this summer, I was reminded of the importance of also simply knowing the narrative of someone’s life.

Rehana speaking at the dedication of the naming of Sherman Hall.

Rehana speaking at the dedication of the naming of Sherman Hall.

Rehana and I are both a part of the Undergraduate Academic Affairs (UAA) Division and for the past four years have shared time together at leadership team meetings. During these meetings, I have looked to Rehana as a role model as I design my own concept of women’s leadership. I appreciate the time I have to sit with her around the UAA leadership table. She asks important questions, provides important context to discussions, inserts moments of humor and light-heartedness, and exemplifies confidence. I have learned a great deal from Rehana by simply being at the same table with her. And, despite having spent this time with Rehana, I recently was reflecting on the fact that I knew very little about her and who she is. This realization inspired me to set up a time to meet with her under the guise of a UMBC Women Who Rocks interview.

So, I asked her “Who are you?”

But, let me take a step back. This actually wasn’t the first question I asked her.  Continue reading