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The Leaky Pipeline


One intriguing fact is that more women leak out more than men do. This creates a filter that eliminates one gender from the field living the other to turn up at the end of the pipeline.

Cronin and Roger (1999) portray the deficiency of women in science and technology as progressive and persistent. Although the number has improved over the last twenty years, there remains a lot to be done in order to attain an equivalent representation of both men and women. Reasons such as success in technical fields have contributed to this, and a sizeable number of intelligent women were known to choose extra topics areas in which to study and work which results to this under representation.

The challenge of bringing more women to STEM is not a new problem but has been there, and education advisers have been trying to encourage more girls to participate in school science through many programs such as Girls Into Science, and Technology (GIST) and Women in Science, and Engineering (WISE) and Project Access in the U.S (Erwin and Maurrotu, 1998). However, there are factors that keep women from going in to science and technology and some of them from working like scientists. Such factors include biological differences between men and female, girl's lack of interest or academic preparation for a science course or engineering, girl's poor attitude towards science. Math and physics, science curricular are irrelevant to many girls, the pedagogy of science, math and physics favor male students, and a chilly climate exists for girls/women in science classes, cultural pressure on girls/women to adjust to traditional gender roles and finally an inherent masculine worldview in science, technology, and engineering (Misa, 2010).


To begin with there is biological differences between male and female. Attention was focused on measurable men, and women's physical attributes as to the extent to which they determine the difference in orientation to this field between the two sexes. Another study was done to determine the brain and how it affects enrollment in to this field. Scientists see a difference in  size of men's and women's brain as a reason of  female intellectual disadvantage, and some scientists went to as far as comparing the women's brain to that of gorillas based on their size and shape of the skull. However, this explanation was useless when researchers realize that when corrected for general body mass, men and women have equal brain size. Further research showed that male geniuses had relatively smaller brains. According to the current situation, whatever biological differences there is between male and female, there is extremely little variation in scientific or mathematical ability and without doubt not satisfactory to be used to clarify the under representation of women in STEM careers (Cain and Fadigan, 2006).

Another perceived reason is academic preparation. Some researchers debate that women avoid science, math, and physics careers because they lack academic preparation to be science and technology students. The Education Testing Service (ETS) conducted an analysis exploring the gender differences by giving tests like school aptitude tests and the report showed that girls tend to be better in writing than boys who were better in electricity and mechanical subjects. This difference was also found to increase with age. When counting topics, verbal was separated into many areas with advantages to girls but natural science with physics had one category of advantage to boys (Cole, 1997).

Apart  from  girls' achievement on standardized tests, many girls tend to shun physics, and calculus courses in high school, and this makes them less likely to choose a STEM major in college  or university and this in turn reduce the number of men  earning technical degrees. Erwin & Marutto, (1998) found out that regardless the grades, women in math and computer science courses were more likely to quite colleges than men were. Stewart (1998) found out that, of those students who chose to study physics at A- level, the females were more prepared than males according to their course grades. In spite of their strong preparation, female students end up leaving science, a few remain, and fascinatingly, there was no difference in performance among those who remain and those who dropped out of science and technology programs. This transfer contributes to under representation of women in STEM.

Attitude and early experiences also contribute to this under representation. Girls happen to dislike science subjects or math too much to consider a career in science and technology. Research carried out by Molly Weinburgh (1995) determined if there would be a pattern of difference between males and females feelings about science. It was identified that boys tend to have a positive attitude toward science than girls though the effect was relatively small. The effect size was mainly in biology whereby more girls have a positive attitude towards biology than other sciences. The largest effect size was in general science and earth science. Physics was perceived as a masculine science hence the small effect size. Girls who chose to take physics have a more positive attitude towards science than those who do not. It was also discovered  that there was a moderate similarity between attitude and achievement in science.

Dale Brake and Rosemary Leary (1995) carried out a research and interviewed some girls about their ideas and attitude towards science, and it was discovered that they enjoyed their science experiences in school, but they had off-putting feelings about dissection, and could not see themselves as scientists. However, they also noticed the bias in books and television where very few scientists were shown to be female. In addition, the poor attitude was shown to develop in primary schools whereby the boys, and girls played in gender-segregated groups, and to interact with toys more differently whereby boys had a greater access to classroom resources than girls did because they had aggressiveness in them. Clearly, there are differences between boys and girls attitudes towards science and this can be solved by altering the curriculum materials.

Another factor was based on the role models. Men make up a majority of scientists, and engineers in the present society, in most industrialized countries. This means implies that there are very few role models in math, science or engineering fields for young female students see. This low population of women in such disciplines probably send a message to the girls/women that the career is unattractive to women hence they should avoid it. Increasing the women population to work in STEM may not be enough. The only way that women have infiltrated these professions is through acting the similar way as their male colleagues. The issue of role models interacts with other issues such as Chile climate, since a few of female engineers or scientists would correspond to a poor environment for women who are in the department. A research by Sonnert (1995b) showed that successful female scientists did not have children, and that is a choice many young females are unwilling to make so such practicing scientists cannot provide models to the young girls. However, increasing role models in   an engineering or science department would be doubtful to unravel the issue of under-representation of women but can be one piece of the solution.

Moreover, there is also a factor contributing to under-representation, curriculum materials, and design. In the 1970s, there was a problem of sex bias in textbooks. The number of males and females shown in the illustrations and photographs in science textbooks, the majority of the people were male (Walford, 1991). Not only were the females absent but they appeared as observers of science done by boys. This contributes to change in attitude of the girls towards science. Today the representations are much more balanced. Other ways in which sex bias has shown up in texts include the wording of examples and in the attention given to the contributions of female scientists. In addition to textbooks ignoring women and young girls, research proves that some curricula are doing well with feminine students than others are. Robert Tai and Philip Sadler (2001) looked into the performance of up to 1500 students in 16 different introductory physics courses all over the U.S and found out that women were more successful in introductory physics at the college or university level had done a high school physics lesson that emphasized depth of coverage than breadth. Progress was made to eliminate sex bias in school textbooks. There is proof that science curricula could be made more accessible to young females than males by clearing less content in greater depth (Misa, 2010).

Pedagogy is another reason for women's under-representation in science, and technology. This is the perception among teachers and students that science and math is a boys' thing, and nothing can be done about it (Kelly, 1987). This feeling does have an effect on students. Margaret Spear found out that when teachers in the U.K were to be given identical samples of students work in science subjects they would mark it higher if it appeared to come from the male student than it came from the female student (spear, 1987). Boys were consistently rated better in scientific accuracy, organization of ideas and conciseness while girls rated higher than boys were on neatness. Spear found out that teachers thought science preparations were more beneficial for boys than girls (Spear, 1987).

Chilly climate is another reason. Attention to gender differences in the U.K has focused on boys' underachievement on exit exams particularly English. The gender gap, referring to high performance of girls are caused by an anti-learning culture, does not translate to high participation in science by girls, however, Warrington and Younger (2000) found out that girls still came across science teachers with chauvinist attitude and little expectations of their achievement. Teachers tend to be generous in their prediction of boys' scores of exams in science while tending to underestimate girls' scores on the same test. Girls complained of boys' bad behavior preventing the entire class from performing lab experiments or other relevant activities.  

Bayne (1993) postulates that, teachers often give sentiments that though boys behave badly and do not complete their work, they frequently give work that is more original while girls copy sentences from textbooks. The chilly climate was also seen in the university, research done by Brainard and Carlin (1998). It was known that women had barriers blocking the route to their degrees. These include feelings of loneliness and fear as well as loss of self-confidence as they progressed through their studies. Women who left the engineering or science track gave reasons such as poor teaching and their own lack of interest in the subjects as their reasons for transferring. Those who changed had low self-confidence ratings compared to their peers who stayed although they all had the same GPA.

Birke (1992), argues while the climate can be chilled if they do not feel welcomed by their male counter parts, at times the environment becomes unfriendly with issues of sexual harassment. Gerhard Sonnert (1995b) findings showed that 12% of women are harassed sexually during their graduate school or early professional experience. The chilly climate for girls and women seem to exist in many science classes They largely comprise of sexist and the harassing behavior toward women by the male colleagues. All have to be addressed by the society (Cole, 1997).

There is also a point to do with pressure to fill gender roles. Boys and girls begin to learn, as soon as they were born how to be men and women. Adults teach children how to be grownups through precise lessons and interactions with each other. Barrie Thorne researched on socialization of boys and girls in gender play: girls and boys in school (Burke and Mattis, 2003). Girls, boys separate into opposite sides in both classroom, and playground and teachers often encourage this by setting up competitions between boys and girls. The idea that boys and girls are on the opposite side also taint children's ideas of suitable profession and aspirations. Ladies who became physicists said that the key obstacle in their pathway was the expectation that they would also become primary caregivers for their children. Another cause of the difference in mathematics performance in boys and girls, research by Fennma and Peterson (1985), show the result of sex-role identity on student accomplishment. Mathematics and science teachers should be educated to have high expectations for both sexes (Cain and Fadigan, 2006).

The masculine worldview of science is another perception which brings out gender inequality in STEM. Sometime in the past, scientific research supported white male scientists' ideas that blacks and women had lesser mental capability because of either facial structure or head size. Women, as Blumenfeld (1985) pits it, were kept away from medical research trials since doctors thought the menstrual cycle would render the results invalid. Men and women with low I.Q were sterilized to avoid more damage to the gene pool. The present-day scientists would dismiss such as bad science hence scientists have learnt to be more objective today thus science is no longer biased toward masculine. Another argument is that science is naturally manly in its epistemology, structure, and methodology (Erwin and Maurutto, 1998).

Many feminist science challenges the foundation of science and so much literature reviews leave this material out. Cole (1997) argues that the reason women are unsuccessful in science is that science itself is masculine. Science is based upon positive, objective rationality which is seen by some feminists as masculine and therefore, not available to women. According to Byne (1993), there are three perspectives in this category: Feminist standpoint theory, whereby Sandra Harding debates that science should be done from the viewpoint of women because their place outside the social order endows women with a more objective perception of the world than men. Situated knowledge whereby while supporting the thought that people have different views from which they perceive the world and feminist empiricism whereby knowledge is not evaluated on social context, but it's recommended that scientists use their political beliefs to guide their theories. Instead of avoiding political bias, scientists should acknowledge what they have, and work with it from their political positions.

After discussing the reasons why women are less represented in science and technology, there are interventions to counter this imbalance (Byne and Mattis, 1993). There is also use cooperative groups in class or at least avoid division of students by sex for class competitions or seating arrangements, eliminate sexist language, and image representation in printed material, avoid tolerating sexist language or behavior, increase depth and reduce the  breadth in introductory courses, and finally openly acknowledging the political nature of scientific analysis. To implement the above changes school teachers should provide an environment where female students are more likely to succeed in subjects that have been since time immemorial dominated by males (Blumenfeld, 1985).


To conclude it's believed that the relationship of young girls to science and their general performance in it is difficult to understand in terms of one factor, but a number of factors must be evaluated for a broader understanding of the social front where science is done and in which socialization occurs. The under-representation of females in STEM careers and majors is not a basic problem. The factors that remove them from science and technology pipeline can be perceived as layers in a sexed-based filter. However, no single factor can be taken as a primary cause. A difficult problem like this requires many sided solutions and time to allow innovations generate the required outcome.

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