Many of the most talented and educated women are often daunted by numbers. Candy Lee, an educational professional at North Western University writes, “Many step into my classroom with aspirations to become leaders in organizations. When I probe about their reasons for taking my courses on leadership or when I ask what frightens them about becoming leaders, many will admit an aversion to math.”
Women are mostly skilled in verbal skills and often pursue that line of work, which gives them an edge for their verbal skills. Although most of us have cultural gender specific roles to fit into, studies have shown that women have a certain edge over verbal skills that men share in cognitive ability.
Lee further explains, “However, the idea that creative outlets are free of numerical needs is false. I teach courses in marketing, journalism and new product development. These fields showcase creativity built on data and finance. There are no roles that aren’t rooted in numerical proficiency. In our graduate school, incoming students in the fall quarter take foundational courses in statistics and finance taught by the best professors. Women tell me they love the professors but are seeking jobs where their “creative sides” can be nurtured. Some women embrace storytelling and art, believing these fields would minimize their numeracy shortcomings”, reports Motto.
Lee understood the aversion of women to numerical studies and researched to find out more about the aversion.
She found out that many international researches also had a similar discrepancy when it came to gender and financial literacy.
Lee writes in her Motto article, “Antonia Grohmann, a Berlin-based economist, found that in 135 out of 144 countries, women understand finances less than men do. The roots of this discrepancy are found early in education, Grohmann says. Much of “Solving the Equation,” a report from the American Association of University Women, highlights the gender bias associating boys with math starts in first grade. This bias continues to affect job placement as men are automatically perceived as more proficient in arithmetic compared to women by both sexes. And in an infamous 1999 study at the University of Michigan, a group of women who were told before taking a test that men do better on math did much more poorly on the exam than the group who did not hear the gender distinction. The problem is that math aptitude on tests is a reliable predictor of future income. So if we want more women leaders in business, corporations, nonprofits, institutions and organizations, we need to encourage women to “do math.”
“One solution is to teach numeracy in context. I have often thought if we took the silos out of middle school, high school and higher education and wrapped our learnings within our passions, we could ensure that students found all subjects relevant. From sports to fashion and social justice, we could showcase numeracy as a part of everything we do. The courses could be in fields of interest with financial literacy woven into all parts of the process, including the intensely creative.
“Steven Pearlstein, Robinson Professor of Public Affairs at George Mason University, and a Pulitzer prize winner for financial reporting at the Washington Post, created courses on economics that provide theory within important questions of our time, such as, “Why do healthcare costs rise faster than the cost of nearly everything else?” Economic theories are explained in terms of a response to a question of current, political interest. Creating relevance for student learning is a hot topic.”
Lee finds that introducing relevance with numeric learning makes female students grow more interested in the subject.
Lee clarifies, “The brain does have two hemispheres, the left concerned more with logic and the right with context. Yet the research also shows that both sides of the brain are needed to function with numeracy and creativity and that people do not literally preference one side. When my female students say they don’t like numbers, I immediately challenge that discussion. Do they think they aren’t good with them? If so, why? Many just shrug and say they don’t like the courses where numbers are the main topic.
“The world needs more women leaders. Women held fewer than 5% of the CEO positions at S&P 500 companies in 2015. Increasing financial literacy with half of the population may begin to solve this inequity and close the gender gap in leadership.
“Perhaps grade school, high school, university and graduate schools should require their students — female students especially — as an assignment to see Hidden Figures, a 2017 awards show contender that portrays the real-life story of Katherine Johnson, a black female mathematician who calculated the flight trajectory for the 1969 mission to the moon.
“For her, numbers were rocket science, but for all students, numbers should be fun. With financial and numerical literacy, they too can shoot for the moon”, said Lee.