My husband and I recently went to hear noted biographer Walter Isaacson speak at his engineering alma mater. I was one of the only women in the crowd, which was fitting as Isaacson spoke of the gender gap in math and computer science majors and how low the numbers were today compared to the 1930's.
Now, I'm not a mathematical genius, in fact, I'm in the math and science dullard category, but those numbers got me riled up. The question was asked, "What is causing this gap? Do they lack confidence?" His response was yes, that's part of it but he also spoke of how there are no well-known role models for females. Which, is of course, is part of the equation but not enough to solve the problem. While there has been a lot of buzz about the gender gap in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) fields one of the greatest areas of disparity is in the field of engineering. Even pop culture reflects this—HBO's "Silicon Valley"has been critiqued for being a sexist show, but it's lack of ladies is a highly accurate representation of the male dominated culture of Silicon Valley.
After the talk I was thinking about my own math and science failings in school which got me to thinking about my son baking away in my womb and what kind of brain he might have. I've just been hoping he would get his father's brains and mathematical abilities and my good looks but suddenly I thought, what if he takes after me? What if he's mathematically challenged? He's going to need to find a nice girl in in his computer science class to help him out, but what if there aren't any? How's he going to snag some computer genius for a wife to be the breadwinner in our future society if girls aren't pursuing careers in math and engineering? Ack!
We don't need to change how we teach our girls, we need to change how they feel about learning math and science in male-dominated environments and make room for them.
I'm selfishly motivated—I want my son to have a plethora of nice smart girls to choose from when he is of a dating age. So if you have a daughter, do me a solid and get her psyched about math and science and computers. The more highly educated women a society has, the better off it is and the way things are going we are going to need some major improvements to make the world a liveable place for our children. Here are some things you can do to help make your little sweetie into a genius that we can count on to innovate, improve the world, raise brilliant daughters of her own and help my very handsome son study.
1. Role models. If you see a person that looks like you achieve it, you can believe it. It's so important to teach our girls (and boys) about brilliant women that never seem to make the history books. Familiarize yourself with these mathematical ladies and then pass the information on to your daughters and your school board.
2. Modern day mentors. Seek out mentors for your daughter—take her to work, ask around in your circle of friends, real-life people doing amazing things are an amazing source of inspiration for kids. Just ask any boy that wants to be a fireman when he grows up.
3. Give the gift of science and math-basedtoys.If a girl wants to dress up like a princess, I'm all for it, I myself am a queen, but make sure that tiara comes with a science kit, too. No reason one can't look fabulous and do experiments.
4. Find math and science-based enrichment programs. Summer is just around the corner, why not send your girl to a tech camp?
5. Appeal to your girl's interest. If she likes makeup, encourage chemistry! Animals? Biology! Counting your freckles? Mathematician! Playing with your iphone? Computer Programmer! Making the world a better place? Physicist! Medical Researcher! Environmental Scientist! You get the point.
Break down the stereotypes. We don't need to change how we teach our girls, we need to change how they feel about learning math and science in male-dominated environments and make room for them. There is no silver bullet, but we can start by encouraging girls from a young age and keeping up that support as they further their education. There are many reasons for the gender gap; it's a complex and complicated issue but it's an issue that we need to be working on as a society.
One of the recurring themes in Isaacson's new book "The Innovators" is how important teams are when it comes to innovation. Hopefully, my son does end up with my husband's brain, and he'll be able to contribute as part of an innovative team that includes women. One of whom he might marry and give me that genius girl grandchild I'll be dreaming of, but no pressure. Wink. Wink.