Perceptions about Who Works in Science & Technology

I've seen this reprinted in a number of places, but it's an important story and I'm going to retell it here. (I first saw it on Restructure.)

A group of seventh graders visited Fermilab. They drew "before" and "after" pictures, and in these drawings we can see the kids' changing perceptions of what it means to be a scientist.

According to the Restructure post, the visit to the lab had a significant impact on the girls. 36% of girls portrayed a female scientist in the before drawing, but in their "after" drawing, 57% portrayed a female scientist.

There was no change in how boys depicted the scientists' gender.

By visiting a lab, both boys and girls had a change in their perceptions of scientists in general. Restructure points to another study that found "children think of scientists as boring white men with glasses, beards, and strange hair." After the visit to Fermilab, the seventh graders did start to see scientists as "normal people." Prior to the visit, only 29% of children described scientists that way. But after the visit, 65% did.

It's always a relief for me when smart folks are seen as "normal people." Phew!

And when I say this I mean no offense to white men with glasses, beards, and strange hair who work in science and technology (I work with a lot of 'em), but we do need to do a much better job encouraging kids (especially girls, clearly) to pursue this path. We need hackers of all sorts.

I see the statistics published by NCWIT about girls and women in IT, I see in my day-to-day life the way things are gendered -- subtly and obviously (sorry, no links) -- in tech, in tech journalism, and I'm pretty frustrated.

(And despite the temptation, I'll refrain from drawing you a picture.)


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