Monday, January 25, 2010

Math anxiety and career anxiety

The National Academies of Science came out with a study today that shows that math anxiety in girls can be catching -- and they get it from their female teachers. The study shows that many female elementary school teachers are anxious about their math skills and may pass of the idea to girl students that girls are worse at math than boys.

The researchers at the University of Chicago assessed the level of math anxiety in female math teachers, and then looked at math achievement amoung the boy and girl students in the teacher's class. When the school year started, the boys' and girls' math achievement scores were not related to their teachers feelings about math. But at the end of the year, girls who thought boys were better at math did worse than the girls that didn't believe this. They did not show an impact on the boys.

I wonder if something like this is happening in women in the workplace when they first start their careers. If the other females in the work environment believe that it is impossible for them to do a good job at work and at home, then the younger females may start doubting their ability to do everything. And they start doubting their abilities before they even start getting married and having children. So it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

I remember when I first started working as a lawyer and there was only 1 female partner at the firm. There was story going around that her daughter had told her that she wanted to be a client, because clients came first. This story, true or not, was completely demoralizing to all of the young female associates. And many left, including me, because of the lack of confident role models.

Instead, it is really important for women who are working to model confidence and show everyone. the men and women in the office, they can do it. Just like the young girls learning math, I think this can make a big difference.

By Sharon Meers

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