OOSA - Out Of School Academy
Minding the Gap

Leslie Bennetts wrote a highly informative article on “ Women and the Leadership Gap ,” for this week’s edition of Newsweek.  In honor of International Women’s Day, I strongly recommend you take five minutes to read it.

In the article, Bennetts quotes an array of statistics that absolutely shocked me. (Do they shock you?)  For example:

Bennetts quotes Mary Quist-Newins, an assistant professor at The American College, “In the financial services industry, 57 percent of the workers are women—but only 1.5 percent of the CEO’s are female.” 

WHAT?!

And how about this zinger of a paragraph of statistics from Bennetts:  “Among this year’s Academy Award nominations, 98 percent were given to movies directed by men, 84 percent went to movies written by men, and 70 percent to movies starring men. In the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as elsewhere in American society, the important decisions continue to be made by men: 77 percent of Oscar voters are male.”

Of course, the situation is ubiquitous, and not limited to who is CEO and who wins an Academy Award, as anyone who works with children or youth will tell you.

Let’s talk about math for a minute, since STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is getting a lot of attention (and funding) these days.  There have been a myriad of studies done that show that stereotyping about who is good at math (boys) begins in elementary school – often before the test score gap between boys and girls in math even presents itself (upper elementary/middle school).  Likewise, there has been a great deal of research done on why the math gap starts and persists.  Do a quick Google search on “girls math research” and read a few of the studies.  Just don’t do it right after eating lunch.  The statistics will make you queasy.

Let me challenge you to think about your daily contact with the girls in your life, program, or class.  Are there any things going on that may, subtly or overtly, be passing along math gender stereotypes.  For example:

-       If you are a woman, do you ever let slip to your students that you are not very good at math? 

-       What gender are your math tutors? 

-       Which gender gets the most attention/time with a tutor during homework time?  (I’m guessing it’s the boys, based on the research).  Seriously, take a day or two and keep track of this, just to make sure you’re not missing something obvious.

Now, what are you doing in your program to actively undo the gender gap?  Not sure where to start?  Here are a few ideas!

-       Check out Expanding Your Horizons, a non-profit organization whose networking mission is to, “Encourage young women to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers,” and get your girls involved.

-       Jump in with Girls, Inc., to provide programming and learning opportunities directed specifically at empowering girls.

-       If you need a little inspiration to start a discussion, watch some of the videos posted on SheHeroes’ website with your youth or staff.

Have more ideas or resources?  Please share them with us! 

There is no better time than now.  As Bennetts points out, “In an era when health insurance plans reimburse men for Viagra while denying women coverage for birth control, it’s anyone’s guess when women will finally decide to mobilize their numbers and their networks to demand an equal voice, instead of continuing to tolerate their relative disenfranchisement.”  Case in point, the current debate regarding Federal funding to women’s health services (in case you haven’t been following that debate, here’s a recent New York Times article for you).

This is not history; this is now.  This is not going to just “work itself out” unless we actively do something to address it.

Use this post as an excuse to make a resolution to make a change in your behavior, your program, or your life to support and promote equality for girls so that International Women’s Day can really be an occasion to celebrate.