Power of Maths Spotlight: When gender meets maths anxiety - View from Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE


Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE shares her thoughts on the crossover between gender and maths anxiety and the impact on wider society, as part of Pearson’s Power of Maths Spotlight series.

Is gender important in maths anxiety?

Gender considerations do not feature as much as they should in conversations about maths anxiety. We overlook it in so many areas.

Maths anxiety arises from thoughts such as “This is going to be super important” and “Will I even pass this?”. It also stems from beliefs like “I’m not as smart as everyone else seems to be” and “People like me don’t understand this”.

These beliefs significantly affect girls and non-binary individuals. Boys on the other hand often receive subtle reinforcement that says “Someone like you (i.e. a male) can handle this.”

In wider society, the idea that girls and non-binary students ‘don’t belong’ in maths in reinforced across many educational settings; in lessons, textbooks, the curriculum, and in what we set as norms and standards.

​​​Although progress is being made through more inclusive wall displays and the presence of diverse role models in the maths curriculum, there is still more that can be done. The stories teachers share during lessons can play a significant role in connecting every learner with maths topics and is an easy change to make.  

​For instance, share the story of Gladys West and how she utilised GPS and trigonometry so we can know where we’re going at any given point, and where we are on the surface of the earth even when we don’t have phone signal.​​

Even if it’s just one bonus story a term, these things add up over the course of a learner’s journey through maths at school. We need to show learners that maths is more than dead white men with beards who sit in bathtubs – it’s not all about Newton and Archimedes!