As a female who works in the tech field, I’m often asked about the gender gap in technology companies, and in the sciences in general. Given that I’m actually on the sales side, I always have to explain that I can’t really represent the “club” of women engineers. But the questions still keep coming.
And even if it weren’t my field, I’m not very far from this issue given that my pioneering, scientist-mother has been a strong advocate for women in science her whole life! She spent her career teaching chemistry to brilliant women at Wellesley college and was/chaired numerous committees in the university community created to tackle this very issue.
Almost all tech companies and educational institutions that I’m aware of are trying to address this gap. There are special classes for girls, like the Girls who Code to motivate girls to enjoy STEM, and now there are special hiring and promotion practices in big tech companies once these girls grow up to be full-fledged engineers.
But is that enough? How do we get MORE girls to find the sciences fun and “for them?” So many girls drop out of math or sciences as they age, maybe thinking it’s not cool or feminine. What to do?
My response is usually, “let girls play with gadgets, tablets, YT, video games, etc. as much as possible.” Have them think about technology as a source of fun and imagination — not just a few-minute past-time that they are allotted once they finish their chores and homework. My thinking is the more time girls spend with tech, the more they’ll feel comfortable in the tech world in general.
But then I found an even BETTER approach thanks to an article I stumbled upon: Beauty is STEM Deep.
This story reported on an event hosted by L’Oreal and Teen Vogue at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Only the event was honoring young female teens who show an aptitude for science and tech, not the arts. L’Oreal spends more on science than any other beauty brand, and therefore, has a legitimate reason to support such an initiative.
And it got me thinking. Maybe beauty is a way to get girls excited about tech and science in general. It’s not enough to separate girls and teach them science and engineering. We need to give them a view into these fields through the eyes of “girl worlds.”
I know I’m generalizing, but girls/female teens tend to be more enamored (sometimes obsessed) with beauty and things of beauty: fashion, cosmetics, hair styles, than boys. (I have a tomboy so it may not be true for her, but even she likes to experiment with my lipstick). So why not leverage those worlds and teach science and tech via fashion or beauty products? Imagine if girls learned the chemical composition of perfume or hair spray, and why one works better than another for hair and skin? Or what if girls had to develop a new app for cosmetics application? Or maybe we get groups of girls to develop a new type of textile using bioengineering?
As a mother of a girl talented in math, I’m hoping there’s a place for her in the sciences and tech should she choose to go in that direction. And if a new emphasis on beauty attracts more women to encourage her along, fantastic! As a woman who loves beauty, if there are more female scientists and engineers thinking about how to make the word of beauty that much better, well, hallelujah!