Posted by: malstott | October 4, 2012

Pink Technology

At Stanford’s recent StartX Demo Day eighteen start-up companies presented their great ideas. Of the presenters, only one was a woman. Of the businesses only two were women founded. One of the two is Maykah, founded by three Stanford grad students. They have come up with a simple toy: a buildable dollhouse complete with working circuits. The product, called Roominate, was funded to goal on Kickstarter in five days. These three women were in the minority at this startup day at Stanford but they got my full attention. I am all for “pinking up” technology.

Connecting girls to fun, techie toys is a good way to get them hooked on science at an early age. Perhaps it is as simple as connecting what girls do naturally with the technical natures of those things.  My friends and I played with trolls and matchbox cars and created grand villages in the dirt with bridges and roads and houses. (Civil Engineering?) We rescued baby birds and tried to nurse them back to health. (Biology? Medicine?) And I loved to sew and cook because I could visualize something and solve problems. (Mechanical Engineering?) Little did I know that those were signs of technology attraction that would lead me to degrees in engineering and a career to go with it.

The statistics are not going in the right direction folks:

  • In 2009, the percentage of undergraduate degrees from engineering schools that went to women was under 18% of the total, a 15-year low, according to the American Society of Engineering Education. It was about 21% in 2002.
  • Women are more attracted to engineering disciplines such as biomedical and environmental engineering than computer science because the social aspects are higher. While 44% of environmental science majors and 37% of biomedicine majors were women in 2009, just 10.5% of computer-science graduates from engineering schools were women, according to the American Society of Electrical Engineers. This isn’t a bad thing but can’t all of the engineering disciplines have a social impact? Shouldn’t they?
  • In the US, 18% of undergraduate computer science degrees were awarded to women in 2009, down from 37% in 1985.
  • In the US only 3.5% of women hold a degree in Engineering or Computer Science. The percent for men is 17.8%. (2009 statistics from Catalyst)

Some are saying that this is an issue of overall lack of good STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) in early years. Others are saying that young women are seeing the lives of their mothers and not wanting to repeat that life of juggling and pressure. I say it is because we have made technology seem too “blue”. Why don’t we talk to girls about the “pink” in technology? Why don’t we describe the creative aspects and the ability to make stuff and change the world? Why don’t we explain the doors that it opens? Why can’t we weave technology into the things that girls and young women do naturally?

Do you like to put stuff together in the kitchen to make the best dessert ever? Do you even care if it turns out since the process was as fun as the outcome?  Did you build houses, villages and characters as a young girl? Did you make up stories that went along with your creations? Do you visualize the future? Were you interested in the Curiosity Rover as it landed on Mars? Do you wonder if someday people could go there? Would you love to have the latest phone with all the capabilities that brings?  Do your parents ask you to set up the TV to record or play a DVR? Do you love having your friends at your fingertips on Facebook and texting? Can you tolerate math as long as the teacher is good? Are you willing to learn abstract concepts if they can be connected to the real world?

Ahhh, then you are a great candidate for a career in technology.

Let’s consider how we can make technology “girly”. It isn’t all that way but there is a pink underside to it that doesn’t show itself often enough.

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