With the rapid development of Europe’s knowledge economy and new technologies on the rise, there is a growing need for people who are skilled in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). For this reason, it is important to attract and recruit more youth to STEM study programmes: We must not only increase the numbers of STEM-trained professionals, but also increase the diversity of STEM-trained professionals.

The project Hypatia takes on this challenge by targeting institutions in 14 European  countries that are already providing science experiences for young people: schools, science centres, museums, industry, and research institutions, and by optimising those science experiences to be accessible to an even broader range of participants. This way, Hypatia can help young people get a deeper and more nuanced understanding of what a STEM career might entail, and allow them to make better-informed choices about their future. A major issue is that the public often conceives of STEM as an undertaking that is difficult and depersonalized, and is carried out by (mainly) men who follow a strict protocol in a laboratory. Therefore, it is an important task for Hypatia to diversify and nuance this conception.

To accomplish this, Hypatia does two things: We harness the diversity of science education activities that are already in existence, and we optimize this diversity to the maximum extent. To guide this optimization, Hypatia has generated a list of focus questions to guide the design (or redesign) of gender-inclusive science activities. And because we know that gender identity is created and constantly re-negotiated at various levels ranging from the individual level to the societal and cultural levels, our focus questions address the conditions and constraints for designing inclusive science education activities that originate and manifest themselves at these levels.

For example, research shows that girls and boys internalize gender norms at the individual level from an early age on. This means that when they encounter science education activities, they already have well-established gender identities. This again means that to avoid feeding into a sense that the science activities they meet are ‘not for them’, the science activities offered by Hypatia should be carefully designed to be inviting to everyone, irrespective of their entering knowledge, interests, experiences, and sense of identity. One of the focus questions we ask is accordingly: What previous experiences do learners have with science? In response to this question, it is important that the planned science activity avoids presenting learners with strongly gendered activities that may contribute to the internalization of ‘female’ or ‘male’ science identities. One way of going about this could be to avoid competitions, as they tend to reinforce ‘female’ and ‘male’ stereotypes, but there are of course many other ways to ensure an inclusive approach.

In Hypatia, we have developed a total of 15 focus questions for science educators in the gender-inclusion optimization of science education activities. The optimized activities are in the process of being tested, and we look forward to hearing from the partners on their progress!

 

Further reading:

Achiam, M., & Holmegaard, H. T. (2015). Criteria for gender inclusion. Hypatia Deliverable 2.1: Hypatia.

Risman, B. J., & Davis, G. (2013). From sex roles to gender structure. Current Sociology Review, 61(5-6), 733-755. doi: 10.1177/0011392113479315