Gender role literacy: Girls in science?

Pink + Legos = Girls
There are gender wars, and then there are casualties. It wasn’t until 2011 that the behemoth toymaker LEGO acknowledged girls’ desire to build with bricks, even though the company had long before made a seemingly effortless pivot to co-branding, video games, and major motion pictures. So it’s little wonder that girls face all-too-real obstacles when it comes to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.
Are they Cheerleaders?
Sometimes the barrier is a matter of perception. In the Washington Post, Sara Sakowitz writes that her all-girls robotics team (above) was mistakenly identified as a group of cheerleaders. Sakowitz quoted astrophysicist Meg Urry, who said, “discrimination isn’t a thunderbolt, it isn’t an abrupt slap in the face. It’s the slow drumbeat of being unappreciated, feeling uncomfortable, and encountering roadblocks along the path to success.”
 National Girls Collaborative Project
That isn’t to say folks aren’t trying to improve STEM-related gender role literacy. The National Girls Collaborative Project has compiled a clearinghouse of projects and resources that collaborate to ignite girls’ interest in STEM related topics. Event the White House has launched a collaboration between the Offices of Science and Technology Policy and the Council on Women and Girls, saying that “Supporting women STEM students and researchers is not only an essential part of America’s strategy to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world; it is also important to women themselves.”

Although “STEM women” out-earn women in other types of jobs – a 33% boost over their sisters – the same percentage of women in STEM occupations feel isolated at work. The Huffington Post reports that “40 percent reported lacking role models, and 84 percent reported lacking sponsors or someone to help make their accomplishments visible throughout the organization.”

Computer Engineer Barbie Computer Engineer Barbie
Urry’s “slow drumbeat” could be keeping girls from entering fields that could provide them options both personal and professional. Columnist Mike Cassidy writes in the San Jose Mercury News, “The dearth of women in computing has the potential to slow the U.S. economy, which needs more students in the pipeline to feed its need for more programmers.” He notes that, between 2010 and 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer science jobs and only 400,000 qualified U.S. college graduates to fill them.

Harvey Mudd College President Maria Klawe points out that, in addition to generous compensation, the field of computer science offers flexibility. This flexibility is a natural fit for women – and men – who in the future may opt to work remotely while raising a family.

And when those young families are being raised, parents might want to consider having their daughters play with STEM-friendly toys. LEGO could be a start, or, as the New York Times reports, steering girls toward computer engineer Barbie, Robot Girl Lottie, or a Roominate engineering kit may start to break down some of the roadblocks and challenge gender roles when it comes to science, math, engineering, and technology.

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