Girls or geeks? Gender bias in makerspace culture | MIT J-WEL

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Girls or geeks? Gender bias in makerspace culture

Man with 2 kids for makerspace

The makerspace
Makerspace programs, which are workshops with an emphasis on creativity, collaboration, and community in which students can experiment with new tools, develop skills, and become empowered innovators and designers, can be a great way for learners to become innovators, designers, and create a sense of shared purpose. But they can also be a space that fosters gender bias. 

Drexel University recently published a report, entitled “Making Culture,” which explains the findings of an ethnographic study into the culture of makerspaces, with a focus on gender equity. It is widely known that STEM fields, including K-12 STEM education, have substantial gender disparities that worsen as students advance from primary to secondary school. “Making Culture” finds that this problem exists in makerspaces, as well. In the sites included in the study, which included schools across multiple urban areas of the United States, men held 76% of leadership positions in makerspaces, while women hold only 24%. 


Girls and Geeks
Much of the literature on makerspaces has focused on technical how-to guides for creating a makerspace. The authors of “Making Culture: A National Study of Education Makerspaces” argue that this emphasis leaves out a key component of a great makerspace: fostering an inclusive culture that is conducive to “creation, collaboration, and individual agency."

The researchers found that implicit gender bias was “pervasive,” and occurred in wide-ranging forms, from the materials used to recruit makerspace instructors and students, to the language used to refer to students once they join a makerspace. In an interview given to EdSurge last month, Youngmoo Kim, one of the study’s co-authors, provided examples: “Instructors consistently refer to their male students using maker terminology—‘geek,’ ‘builders,’—and then overwhelmingly referred to their female students as ‘girls’, as a gender-specific identity. By contrast, adults never referred to groups of male students as “boys.”


Check out the interview with Kim in EdSurge or read the full “Making Culture” report. 


Kim, Y., Edouard, K., Alderfer, K. and Smith, B. (2018). Making Culture: A National Study of Education Makerspaces. [online] Drexel University. Available at: [Accessed 9 Jul. 2018].

Photo credit: CSM Architecture Club

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