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Encouraging Women’s Confidence in Math Skills Could Increase the Percentage of Women in the STEM Workforce

How Encouraging Women’s Confidence in Math Skills Can Potentially Increase the Percentage of Women in the STEM Workforce by 75%

Getting more women to be interested and therefore represented in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is a national priority; a new study has provided some insight into where efforts could be best focused.

According to a recently published study from researchers Jessica Ellis, Bailey K. Fosdick and Chris Rasmussen, women are 1.5 times more likely to leave the STEM pipeline after calculus than men and a lack of confidence in their abilities to tackle advanced math could be to blame.

Because Calculus is a challenging but necessary part of advancing into many STEM fields, it has been proven to dissuade many people from continuing their pursuits. While more women are likely to be dissuaded by Calculus than men, research supports that a lack of confidence is mostly to blame as opposed to a lack of ability.

"When comparing women and men with above-average mathematical abilities and preparedness, we find women start and end the term with significantly lower mathematical confidence than men. This suggests a lack of mathematical confidence, rather than a lack of mathematically ability, may be responsible for the high departure rate of women,” the paper says.

The researchers estimate that if women could increase their math confidence, they would make up a significantly higher percentage of the nation’s STEM workforce.

"While it would be ideal to increase interest and participation of women in STEM at all stages of their careers, our findings indicate that if women persisted in STEM at the same rate as men starting in Calculus I, the number of women entering the STEM workforce would increase by 75%,” the paper says.

Many experts argue that increasing women participation in STEM starts by providing a solid foundation of confidence in K-12.

In this respect, the word “growth mindset" might sound familiar to you.

According to, “[i]n a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point.”

"This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

Encouraging students that they are able to understand math through perseverance and hard work versus letting them believe they lack an innate talent is a way that many researchers believe K-12 teachers can help push women into the STEM pipeline.

Read the full study here.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor


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