Research numbers show that there’s a gender problem in the field of mathematics. Few tenure track positions are held by women, and they are underrepresented in university research faculties.
Chad Topaz, a math professor at Macalester College and his colleague Shilad Zen looked at the editorial boards of academic journals. In their analysis, they found that less than nine percent of women hold math journal editorial positions. What is going on in the field of mathematics that’s causing this disparity?
Gender disparities begin early
There is a theory that men are “smarter” than women and that they have a knack for math that drives their success in the field. Differences in male and female confidence when it comes to math are obvious from an early age. In the classroom, boys are more likely to overestimate their abilities and girls to underestimate theirs.
Until fairly recently, women were not allowed to pursue advanced degrees and they still seem to feel inferior to men in the field, although there have been some notable exceptions. The stereotype that they aren’t good at mathematics seems to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. A number of researchers believe that the way girls are treated in their formative years at home and in school contributes to the disparity.
Mathematics is traditionally a male-dominated field
There can’t be equal representation at the top of the field when the pipeline that starts at school isn’t working well. Women mathematicians often report that they feel like they’re in a “good old boys’ club.” They are usually vastly outnumbered by male colleagues who often socialize together and leave them out. They are not made to feel as though they are on an equal level as the men.
There is such value given to objectivity in academia and because men are committed to objectivity in their approach to their work, they may be unaware that their own subjective bias has crept into how they evaluate the performance of women in this traditionally male-dominated field. Even top women mathematicians tend to attribute the gender disparity in math to masculine bias and although this may be changing, there is still a long way to go.
Building math skills
The study of mathematics can be challenging for both male and female students. It can easily become almost incomprehensible if they just miss out on one important step. Students battling with math can access free online services to improve their skills. The math questions and answers on Blendedlearningmath.com are questions that real people ask. They can help students to understand how to use basic logic and mathematical operations.
Academic environments often reward quantity over quality
The fact that women still carry more of the responsibility of child-rearing and housework leads to an assumption that females are not as productive when it comes to research. They may write two articles a year rather than the ten that their male colleagues write, but that has nothing to do with the quality of what they produce.
However, academic environments that reward quantity over quality often count this against them. The fact that intelligence and quality may not count as much as productivity may seem completely unfair, but it could be a reason why women struggle with reaching the top.
Accomplishments are viewed differently
There’s a long history of women not being given the same rights and opportunities as men and the accomplishments of women being overlooked. The accomplishments of highly competent female mathematicians are often seen in a different light to those of men.
If they win awards, men tend to think it’s because they are female rather than because of their abilities. Stereotypes have been so long in the making that it is likely to take some time for this to change.
To make an important contribution to mathematics requires devoting a large part of life to doing math. Hypatia of Alexandria learned and practiced math under the guidance of her mathematician father. This enabled to make a contribution. Cultural bias can create a lack of opportunity to study math from an early age and devote enough time to becoming proficient.
WHY IT MATTERS
There are still implicit and explicit sexism barriers for highly talented women in the field of mathematics, although this is slowly changing. Considering the lack of support women have received historically and all the barriers still in their way, it is remarkable that they have managed to achieve what they have. The participation of more women, especially in the top ranks of the field, could have a positive effect.
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