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Women in STEM: Interview with Stanford math education researcher Jo Boaler


Back in 1992, toy company Mattel nearly had to recall its “Teen Talk” Barbie. Women’s groups protested the doll’s use of the phrase “Math class is tough.” They called it out for indirectly perpetuating a harmful stereotype-- that boys and men are better at math than girls and women. Research -- especially over the last 10 years -- has shown there is no innate difference in math ability between males and females. And yet the stereotype persists. Women earn 43% of all college math degrees, yet their presence is scarce in the higher echelons of mathematics. The statistics for women of color are even lower.

Stanford education researcher Jo Boaler says the seeds of this disparity are sown well before college. She says it starts as soon as kids first go to school, when they start to get the message that: you’re either a math person, or you’re not.

“Unfortunately, in the US right now, there’s a belief that you’re either a math person or you’re not. Kids believe that, parents believe that, and most devastatingly, teachers believe that. This idea that you haven’t got the brain for math, it’s really outdated, and anybody can grow that brain that’s needed to excel in math.”

Click the audio player above to hear the entire interview.