9 ways to excite girls about science and technology
In September, when Twitter filed its IPO with an all-male board it was just another reminder of what we already know: There's an alarming dearth of women in technology. Not that this is an excuse for Twitter, which still could have found a way to fill its board with a more diverse group of people. The company is just a particularly high-profile example.
In 2013, eight other Silicon Valley companies with all-male boards have filed for IPOs. Although Apple recently added its first female executive, the likes of Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg remain few and far between. Now parents are asking ourselves, how do we change this for the next generation? How do we raise our daughters so that more will grow up to pursue careers in technology?
Parents can start by exposing their daughters to opportunities a few different ways:
Introduce your daughters to women in your community who work in science. A recent study by University of Texas sociologist Catherine Riegle-Crumb examined the gender divide in high school physics courses. After controlling for other factors, they found that girls were more likely to take physics courses when they were raised in communities where they see women working in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Look for toys that expose girls to science in an engaging, hands-on way. An especially apt example is Roominate, a wired dollhouse making kit that develops spatial and engineering skills.
Help your daughters visualize themselves as scientists by enrolling them in camps and programs at a young age. Coder and YouTube partner Adria Richards told NPR young girls get three messages about their place in technology: "One, you wouldn't be interested in this. Two, you wouldn't be good at this, and three, you don't belong here." When girls are exposed to technology at a young age, Adria continues, they can say "no" to these messages because they know they are interested in it, they are good at it, and they do belong.
This last strategy is a particularly challenging task considering how many of our K-12 schools don't teach computer science, and even fewer teach how to create technology, not just use it. That means we parents may have to look beyond our local schools. Fortunately, a growing number of organizations are working to draw more girls into computer-related studies:
Girls in Technology provides support for community and academic programs that bring girls into tech-related courses.
The Girls in Tech Mentorship Program develops workshops and helps cultivate mentorships for girls (and women).
Groups like IGNITE!, Girl Geeks, She++, and NASA's WISH have similar missions.
And on its 100th anniversary, Girl Scouts of America held a technology conference where it committed to building female leadership in the field. In April it created a new badge for video game development, among other STEM-related badges.
So math and science programs for girls are out there. How else can we spark interest in science and technology in our girls? It may take a creative approach.
Here's one idea: In a recent New York Times article, economics reporter Catherine Rampell suggested that the tech industry needs its own "CSI" television show.
"Public narratives about a career make a difference," Rampell writes.
When girls fill out applications for Girls Who Code they most often list forensic science as their career aspiration most likely because they've watched "CSI'" or similar programs featuring female characters in lab coats using science to solve crimes.
"This so-called 'CSI' effect has been credited for helping turn forensic science from a primarily male occupation into a primarily female one," Rampell says.
Perhaps the new movie "Gravity," featuring Sandra Bullock as a medical engineer and astronaut, will inspire a new generation of girls. I can't imagine that girls are clamoring to see it with the enthusiasm they'll have for the upcoming Disney movie "Frozen" (though the ice queen character does display a kind of wizardry you could connect with technology, if only metaphorically). But the thrilling film has been enormously popular.
Parents can find more inspiration for their girls by checking out the American Association of University Women's list of "Favorite On-Screen Women in Film."
Gaming might also be an area that can draw girls into STEM courses, though perhaps a controversial one. Gaming culture isn't always welcoming to girls, but it's not as hostile as you'd think. Female gamer Cupquake has managed to bridge the world of gaming with baking, of all things. She maintains a major gamer following while also video blogging her original, video game-inspired baked confections. It's not that girls need cupcakes to take an interest in science but the combination can help bridge the gap.