Yesterday was International Women's Day and since I'm a firm believer in International Better Late Than Never Day, I thought I thought I'd add my little contribution to the celebration. Or at least highlight a great post from someone else.
Computer Scientist Amy Csizmar Dalal's recent blog post Does Barbie's career matter? has some great things to say about the importance of role models and positive examples for girls who might be interested in scientific or technical careers:
I was a somewhat normal (don't laugh too hard) but nerdy kid growing up who loved math and science. And while I had wonderful role models growing up, I had no technical role models at all. So I had these nerdy interests but no real idea what people could do with them, career-wise. It was my high school guidance counselor who clued me in to the world of engineering, and the rest, as they say, is history. And it's not like you can just accidentally take a class in engineering and decide to major in it--you have to know going in to college that engineering is what you want to do. So that intervention by my guidance counselor was crucial to where I ended up, career-wise. And more importantly, this intervention from my counsellor was the one and only message I heard about engineering while growing up. But that's all it took: one message from an adult I greatly respected.
So what messages do girls hear about technology growing up, and about their place in the technical world? Unlocking the Clubhouse, the seminal book by Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher, tells us that girls often aren't getting the message at home that being into computers is socially or intellectually acceptable. Peer pressure in junior high (and even before then) sends the strong message to girls that being a computer nerd is often a social death sentence. And the media? Well, how many images of successful women computer scientists have you seen on the news, on commercials, on TV, in movies, online, etc. lately?
Barbie is an icon, like it or not. And she can send a powerful message to young girls. So in the face of all the other negative messages about computer science that our girls are hearing, why not have Barbie rail against that message and present an alternative, a role model and anti-stereotype?
There's a nice pic of Computer Engineer Barbie here.
One small contribution I did make is to set up a display of books on Women in Science & Engineering in my library. We have a couple of shelves where I can display 30 or so books on a theme for students to look at or check out. It's a real quick and dirty display, one that's easy for me to set up and easy to maintain for the month it's up. The themes vary (January was career books, February on green technology) but every year in March I get out a pile of books on women in science and put them out. Over the course of the month, maybe a dozen or so get checked out; as they do, I just replace them with other books.
This year, as an added bonus, we're also highlighting my display on the York University Libraries home page: Women in Science: On display in March on the Steacie Science & Engineering Library Spotlight Bookshelf. Hurry up and catch it before the display changes.