Gender bias in secondary education - An explorative study on the availability of role models for physics and computer science students in Dutch high schools
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While the overall gender-gap in the Netherlands has been decreasing in the last couple of decades, females have not yet reached an equal footing in the different fields of STEM. One of the reasons may be the fact that there are not enough female role models being created and presented to female students. Role models are found to have a lasting impact on the feeling of belonging and sense of possibilities for a career in a certain industry or field. They give students the idea that a career path is something that they could pursue and achieve too. Without proper role models in STEM, female students tend to feel that they do not belong and that they would not be good at it. The focus of this study lies on Dutch secondary education, as at this stage of education the gender-gap in STEM starts to be apparent. In this study we explored the presence of gender-bias in role model availability in Dutch secondary education, and the influences it has on the found gender-gap in STEM. We have analysed physics and computer sciences textbooks for the 4th, 5th, and 6th year of Dutch havo/vwo, and handed out questionnaires to female students in the 3rd year of havo/vwo. Compared to females, the books include up to 4 times as many males in general, and up to 50 times as many male scientists in relevant fields to physics and computer sciences. This gender-bias in role model availability seems to be picked up by students too, who indicate that they feel that their textbooks give them the feeling that STEM is meant for males and who can hardly name any female scientists by name in contrast to a large number of male scientists. The results of our study indicate that there is a large gender-bias in role model availability, and that this gender-bias likely deters females from starting a career in STEM. Thus, to decrease the found gender gap in the professional fields of STEM, a good first step would be to decrease the gender-bias in role model availability in secondary education.