Let me open with a disclaimer: I feel really silly calling young female students women, I don't care if it's not a politically correct term. They are beautiful, vibrant, young, and I will call them girls. When I was 18-22, as my undergrads are now, I definitely felt I was a girl, not a woman; the term 'woman' was, I felt, suitable for wrinkly old ladies of the age that I am now... Ah, youth foregone. I certainly don't feel like a girl any more.
I am in a physical science field that is notorious for the low representation of women at all levels. In the required undergraduate class that I often teach, sophomore/junior level, out of 40-50 students usually no more than 1-2 are female, and often there are none. This semester, I have nearly 70 students of whom 10 are girls. It's amazing! The No 1 student in the class is female, kicking some serious butt, and 5 women are among top 20 students.
I have been really excited about all these girls in my class and I feel like I should somehow reach out to them and perhaps offer to somehow advise them professionally. But I am not sure what to do and how. I talked briefly with the No 1 student and told her that, if she ever needed to talk about graduate school or other professional issues, I am happy to do it. She smiled kind of nervously, thanked me, and left. I thought to myself "So now I am creepy, great."
Do I send out an email to all the girls saying "You may have questions that pertain to your future careers, and I am happy to help," but shouldn't I then justify why I am singing them out? Because I am singling them out based on their gender, and the experience I have had says their gender will be a considerations in their professional future. They probably have no idea yet of all the ways their gender may be an issue, so I don't want to scare them. I basically want to let them know that I am a woman in this discipline, that there are few of us, and that if they have questions about the profession or the balance of the professional and personal, I am happy to help.
Also, I have noticed that I subconsciously differentiate among students based on their performance in my class. For instance, I would be very happy to mentor the No 1 student and the other high performers above and beyond my usual faculty duties, but I must admit I don't feel particularly enthusiastic about doing the same for mediocre or low performers (this is irrespective of gender). If I were to send some sort of an extending-helping-hand/female solidarity email, should I send it to all female students, or just the top female students? Or do I perhaps have a duty to always offer the exact same type of advising and support to all students, male and female, high and low performers alike?