At Centrale Nantes, a “girls and maths” day to break the clichés

At Centrale Nantes, a “girls and maths” day to break the clichés

“Usually, I am the only girl who likes maths alongside lots of boys,” appreciates Clara, 15, who came with some 75 middle and high school girls to attend a “girls, maths and computers” day in Nantes in a school of engineers.

A day organized for the first time at Centrale Nantes to encourage vocations in a school which only welcomes 25% female students. While discussing the “ordinary sexism” which sometimes reigns in the scientific community, at the risk of putting off certain potential candidates.

On the program: mathematical games, conferences, “speed-meeting” with women scientists and a play against sexist prejudices.

Encourage the scientific vocations of young girls

It’s encouraging to see women succeeding in this field“, enthuses Clara, a second year student at a high school in Gorges (Loire-Atlantique), who says she is reassured in her scientific vocation after this day. “By addressing middle school girls, we hope to have an influence as early as possible“, confides Marianne Bessemoulin, 39 years old, research fellow in mathematics at the CNRS and Nantes University, who organized this day. “I never stopped myself from doing math because I was a girl, but I had more and more unfriendly thoughts as my studies progressed.“. Lecturer in computer science at Nantes University, Charlotte Truchet did not want to hide from teenage girls the “ordinary sexism” that reigns in her sector. “The difference is that now we talk about it whereas in my generation, we acted as if it didn’t exist“.

3rd grade student at La Durantière college in Nantes, Fatoumata, 14, admits “not really liking math, except the Pythagorean theorem“But she considers this day important to break the clichés.”Too often we hear boys say that they are superior to girls, she confides. In my class, when a girl is good at sports, they do everything to put her down and make her lose…

Mathematics, the least feminized discipline at university

Zoé, 16, in second grade in Guérande (Loire-Atlantique), also suffered from “sexist remarks” in her former high school where she was in the professional aquaculture sector. “The boys said that the girls had to write and clean up during the experiments. Now, I will move towards a first in Laboratory Sciences and Technologies without worrying about the opinions of others“.

The teachers who support them know that they have a role to play in this matter. “I make sure that I give both girls and boys a voice and that they do not interrupt them.“, underlines Aurélie Soulard, 45 years old, mathematics teacher at the Charles-Péguy high school in Gorges. “It’s constant vigilance when we see how much girls lack self-confidence. We must also raise awareness among parents who are more inclined to encourage their boys to pursue maths, even when they do not work hard enough.“.

Released on January 25, 2024, the book “Matheuses, Girls, future of mathematics” (CNRS éditions) recalls that this discipline is the least feminized at university, with 14% of female teacher-researchers, and that the math specialty in high school only brings together 40% of girls when they represent 54% of high school students. Internationally, UNESCO highlights that only a third of researchers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are women. On February 9 in Paris, she launched a call to action to “close the gender gap in science”.