Gender balance and impact of role models in secondary science education

Alessandro Siani, Megan McArthur, Bethany Christine Hicks, Claudiu Dacin


Exposure to inspirational and relatable role models is crucial towards fostering engagement of learners with scientific disciplines. However, the representation of scientists in popular culture is still far from being adequately gender- and race-inclusive. This study evaluated the gender balance and impact of scientific role models using a two-pronged experimental approach. The gender balance was investigated in search engines, online databases, and school curricula. A survey was used to investigate English secondary students’ awareness of role models and intentions to pursue further scientific studies.

Our findings revealed a widespread female underrepresentation amongst scientific role models in all the analysed online sources and in high school curricula provided by the three main English exam boards. The survey (n = 356) revealed that students were considerably more likely to identify famous male than female scientists. While awareness of female role models was significantly associated with students’ gender, this was not the case for male role models. A statistically significant correlation was also observed between the number of identified role models and intentions to pursue scientific studies in Key Stage 4 girls.

This study reinforces the urgency of ensuring school curricula and online resources provide a more modern and inclusive representation of scientists.


Role models; Gender bias; Secondary education; High school; STEM; Curricula

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