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If She Can See It, She Can Be It

aditichaudhry92 profile image Aditi Chaudhry Updated on ・3 min read

This article was first published on Medium. You can take a look at it here

As a woman in technology, it matters to me that young girls remain interested in and pursue careers in STEM. The lack of women in STEM is of international interest, but in the United States (US), it is a national issue. Currently in the US, only 25% of STEM professionals are women. Encouraging young girls to stay interested in STEM is one step forward to retaining women in the technology field.

The Leaky Tech Pipeline shows that women are dropping out of STEM at every stage of life. Research shows that boys and girls in the US start with equal interest and aptitude in STEM but by middle school, 26% of girls drop out of the field. What could cause ¼ of girls to drop out so early?

We live in an age where children spend half their waking hours consuming media. Children are impressionable; what they see on TV shapes their perceptions of their potential and their role in society. If girls see female characters on TV being bad at math and the boys excelling, that’s what they will start to believe.

Growing up, I thought Lindsay Lohan’s character in “Mean Girls” was cool for being the one who correctly answered the winning question at the state math competition. But apparently I was the only one. I didn’t understand why her interest in math made her weird. Why was joining the math team considered social suicide?

She pretended that she didn’t understand math problems to get a boy’s attention. She started to fail math so she could talk to him. She even asked him for help, knowing that he was wrong. His steps were wrong, his answers were wrong, but she continued to pretend to be someone she was not. I was genuinely confused. Why did she need to dumb herself down to feel accepted by her peers? Why did she think boys wouldn’t like her if she was smart?

TV shows rarely have a female protagonist who is strong, independent, intelligent and beautiful. However, if the character is intelligent, she possesses certain quirks that are viewed as undesirable. Even “The Big Bang Theory,” a show about physicists, compares attractive Penny with socially-awkward, nerdy Amy forcing the viewers to think who would want to be Amy? How can we expect the next generation of girls to pursue STEM subjects when the media depicts intellectual women in a negative light?

We need young girls to stay interested in STEM to help fix the leaky pipeline and keep more women in tech. But why does this matter? Women in STEM boost productivity and profitability. Women on tech teams boost problem-solving and creativity. Teams that have at least 1 female member outperform all-male teams. And return on investment is higher for tech companies with more women in management.

So what is the solution? We need to celebrate the accomplishments of women in STEM and promote awareness of their achievements. Anita Borg and Grace Hopper laid the foundation for present day technology, But how many people know of their contributions to computer science? Katherine Johnson shattered the stereotype about women in mathematical computation with her contributions to the NASA space program. However, her contributions became common knowledge after the movie “Hidden Figures” was released.

In The Dark Knight Rises, Batman tells Rachel that “Gotham needs a hero with a face” for the city to be saved. Similarly, today’s young girls need a “hero with a face” to look up to and aspire to become. Because if she can see it, she can be it.

Posted on Aug 1 '17 by:

aditichaudhry92 profile

Aditi Chaudhry

@aditichaudhry92

I majored in Computer Engineering and Computer Science at UVA (wahoowa) and now work as a Cloud Security Engineer!

Discussion

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And by "national" you mean the USA, I guess? I support women in tech and the idea of gender neutral education / media, but I don't support the omnipresent writing style of US folks that ignores there are other countries in the world.

Or maybe dev.to is mainly for US? Then I say sorry and drop my account.

 

Yes I meant the USA when I said "national." When I originally presented this talk, it was based on my experiences growing up in the US. I didn't mean to ignore the other countries in the world, I was simply writing about what I know. I've edited the post with the hope of clarifying this. Thanks!

 

Thanks for clarifying, I appreciate. Maybe my comment sounds way too harsh, please don't take it as an offense. I also think that most writers do not willingly ignore other countries, especially not in the DEV area with open minded folks, but nevertheless it is sort of annoying and I took the chance to express my annoyance.

 

FYI you can see at the very top that this article wasn't originally published to dev.to (it was first published on Medium), so its audience may differ than dev.to's target audience.

Edit: Grammar fix.

 

Thanks for pointing out, but Medium has an international audience too, at least this is what they are saying about themselves (medium.com/about):
"Medium taps into the brains of the world’s most insightful writers,..."

 

As a female software engineer, I share your vision.

And there is a lot more about this topic, if you think worldwide.

I'm from latin american, and here sexism is a very strong point that takes girls out of STEM. There is a common sense of what is and what is not a "profession for a girl".

Since early ages girls are not mentally challenged, encouraged to discover how things works or develop logical skills. There are many parents who still think that are toys for girls (dolls, ovens, tea sets, any stupid thing as long as it's pink...) and toys for boys (things like lego, cars, videogames and so on). These "boy's toys" certainly helps to stimulate logical thinking much more than the "girl's toys".

And even when these girls became good at math/physics, they end up choosing something else in college just because they have a strong social bias telling them to do so. Probably a huge waste of talents for STEM.

 

Thank you for sharing your story and being an amazing role model that young girls in your country can look up to for inspiration!

 

Indeed, the whole diversity issue in STEM fields is a matter of national - or even international - interest. Forcing a more balanced environment at work might help but won't solve the problem in the long run - it would just make things easier for women to be accepted (and that's indeed another problem of these days).

It's a cultural shift that needs to be done. And every country has to face it differently: I presume you live in the US, but there are places where the problem is actually much worse. But also better.

In my country (Italy) there is no much of a difference between boys and girls in STEM fields - I graduated in mathematics, and actually most of the students were female, while my sister had no issues becoming a chemist. But still, there's a serious lack of women in IT. Maybe because it's still seen as a thing for nerdy boys? Man, that has to change.

 

Additionally, forcing a balance with positive discrimination leaves you with an underqualified workforce and a load of women who feel they were hired just because they were women. I completely agree - it's the cultural shift that is necessary.

 

We have a similar problem in the UK. I help to run coding workshops for kids as a way of improving the situation - but you are right, we need to change this image of STEM as not for (cool) girls - we need more role models in the public eye!