STEM for girls shouldn’t just mean pink
Encouraging girls in science and technology is not just giving them toys with a pink hue of the same design for boys. It should go much deeper and I’m not talking about making them magenta.
When you find yourself in the toy section in Target or perusing Amazon, you may notice that the majority of toys geared for girls are pink. Don’t get me wrong; I love the color pink in all its lovely variations. But when it comes to choosing toys for my daughter, I want to be able to encourage her to play and stretch her imagination when it comes to engineering yet not framing it in the sense that “Now, we are going to learn about science.” in PINK!
I have noticed among other moms and female friends, that we have a tendency to brag about how bad we are at math. It’s just weird. It’s a badge we willing wear, like something we earned it in a twisted version of Girl Scouts. We are, whether consciously or unconsciously aware, our child’s first role models. How do you think this type of talk is affecting your child’s psychology and how they relate to you and ultimately the world around them?
It’s important to think about how you discuss your own relationship with math and sciences. What you say and how you describe your own self affects your child. Yeah, that looming parenting quandary on how to keep your child’s future psychiatry bills to a minimum – it’s a heady responsibility.
Why this matters
The truth – the fastest-growing jobs worldwide require engineering and tech training. STEM jobs are building the world and the future — from infrastructure to space exploration, transportation, clean energy, and much more. These careers are solving our world’s greatest challenges. Our world is changing and we need to ensure that all voices are heard in how we shape our future. When you have people of different backgrounds involved in building the solutions that our world needs, you get improved solutions. Gender-diverse teams of people make better decisions and contribute collectively with new and fresh perspectives.
We need more women entering these fields. If we truly want women to have equal opportunities, we need to intervene at a young age to ensure we are encouraging them and building their interest early on by presenting STEM in a way that appeals to girls. If we can do that, endless doors will open for them.
“It’s incredibly obvious to me that there’s a huge divide in terms of how boys and girls speak about math and science,” says Vanessa Vakharia, who runs The Math Guru science and math tutoring studio and advocates for girls’ success in STEM.
Boys will complain that they don’t want to put in the work to get organized and study, Vakharia says, but a disproportionate number of girls truly believe they don’t have the innate ability to understand math and science.
“The confidence gap is huge, and it really affects the way they approach and relate to STEM subjects. Negative perceptions about their math and science abilities begin at surprisingly young ages for girls, Vakharia says. “A lot of studies have shown that girls as early as age six start developing the idea that they’re not inherently good at math.”
Redefining boy toys
An example of disrupting the industry is a forward-thinking female who founded GoldieBlox, which started by filling a need to provide girls STEM toys that were geared for them. It has now evolved into a children’s media company challenging gender stereotypes.
Before GoldieBlox, the only construction toys on the market were the pink versions of the boy toys. It has now exploded into a myriad of innovative ways to peak girls interest in playing around with math, science and engineering.
“I didn’t have construction toys growing up, but I knew from my childhood what interested me as a young girl. I came up with the idea to combine storytelling with building and characters with narratives. Being a woman and designing a construction set came from an entirely different perspective than the world had seen.”Debbie Sterling, Founder and CEO, GoldieBlox
GoldieBlox has been hugely successful in engaging girls in a new, innovative way. This story is only one of the countless other stories of women entering male-dominated fields and breaking down barriers.
Stepping up your STEM game
It’s OK if you didn’t love math in school, or if sciences never clicked with you. Your child’s interests don’t necessarily have to center around STEM either. Before you consciously or unconsciously limit your daughter’s options because of what some of her interests are, refrain from steering her away – give her a chance to try it for herself! In order to make math and science a part of her life don’t get caught up in the logistics, think creatively and reframe how you approach these topics.
Baking, for example, is chemistry. Gardening is all about botany. DIY home projects involve measuring. There are a lot of great ways for you to give your child concrete examples of the value of STEM subjects and you don’t have to be a scientist or an engineer to be a positive role model.
The bottom line
It is our responsibility to encourage our child and nip the stereotypes in the bud. Notice when you might be saying something self-deprecating as a way to bond. Your words, even if they are negative against yourself, are sending the wrong message to your daughter. You CAN be a role model when it comes to science and math and you don’t have to have a degree from CalTech or MIT. You can creatively work STEM into what you already feel confident doing. Lastly, give your child the confidence to try and refrain from steering her away.
There are a thousand ways to be a girl, and they’re all valid.