I recommend Shiobe's diary about the Jet Propulsion Lab presenter treating the little girl and little boy in the audience very differently, and the discussion that follows it about girls and women in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) fields. More on this topic and links to a couple of relevant articles below the squiggle.
This is going to be a bit of a stream of consciousness diary. I do not have any particular answers here, just random thoughts. First, some background - I coach a math team for homeschoolers age 14 and below. This is my 15th year. I try to be as welcoming as possible to girls. Our meetings are very cooperative. We sit around tables in small groups working on interesting problems together. I try to group beginner girls together. We have several high school student helpers who are alums of the group, and I try to put the girl helpers with the younger girls to serve as role models. All the kids seem to really enjoy it, and I think the format is particularly good for fostering girls active participation. I think the fact that most of the kids have never attended an institutional school might be an interesting part of the dynamics, but since I have never led a group like this for school kids I am not sure how if affects things.
There is an interesting article from an MIT economics professor Here. He looks at data from the American Mathematics Competition exams, which are given to several hundred high school students every year, and analyzes the gender breakdown. His thesis is that the strong girls tend to be much more clustered at particular programs than the strong boys, and that those programs may be doing something different that particularly encourages girls.
I would like to think that my own program is particularly encouraging to girls. But when I think about the dozen or so kids I have had over the years who have been in the top 2% or so of a national cohort, there has been only one girl. I do not think that there has been female talent going unencouraged in my group. I think I just have not gotten the same sort of math obsessed girls as boys.
I also think that parents are a strong factor. Since this is a homeschooler group, I get to know the parents well. We have quite a few dads who are engineers, programmers etc. There are a few moms like that. Bu more of the moms are themselves math phobic. They want their kids in my group because they feel very insecure in their ability to teach their homeschoolers math past basic arithmetic. I encourage parents to participate along with the kids. Some do, more don't. The ones I have had who seem to flee from the room when the math starts have been moms. So I think the issue is much more culturally pervasive than just teachers and schools.
Hereis a bonus interesting article on girls in STEM fields. This one has the thesis that young women are choosing not to go into hard science PhD programs not because they are not adequately prepared (ED - or could not get in), but because they have made a calculation that medical school is a better route.
ED - Wow, my diary has been rescued! Would it be too girly to swoon?