Update: I’m happy to announce that the problem that was preventing comments from posting to the blog has been fixed, so all posts are once again open for commenting. Again, I really apologize if you posted a comment in March or April that did not make it onto the blog. Please repost your comment now and I look forward to responding. ~Donna
Today I heard an interview with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor about her new book, Out of Order. Retired Justice O’Connor talked about how hard it was to find a job as a female attorney in 1950 when she graduated from Stanford Law School because no one wanted to hire a woman. She applied to 40 different law firms and was unable to get a single interview even though she was among the top graduates in her class at Stanford. She eventually met a public official with attorneys on staff who agreed to hire her, but told her that he had no more funds for the budget year and didn’t have an office for her. She offered to work for free until some dollars became available and said that she would be willing to share space with his secretary, if his secretary would agree to this. Retired Justice O’Connor got her first job as an attorney by working for free and sharing office space with a secretary, but she went on to become the first woman Supreme Court Justice. She was a pioneer and like other pioneers she was unwilling to take no for an answer. I had the privilege of meeting her in 1990 when she was still on the court and I was a WREI fellow on Capitol Hill.
I have the greatest respect and admiration for pioneering women like Sandra Day O’Connor who are some of the first to enter a career or field. Pioneers have jumped through hoops and opened doors for women in legal fields, medicine, law enforcement, the trades and STEM. The stories of these women pioneers are inspirational, moving, and important to celebrate during Women’s History Month. And I am fortunate to count a number of pioneers among my close friends.
However, I also equally admire the women who follow behind the pioneers. They may not be the first woman in their field or in their position, but they are still the first on their worksite, the first among their friends, the first in their family or just one of very few. Many of these women have the same kind of tenacity that drove Sandra Day O’Connor to succeed, and they are also leading the way for the women and girls that come after them. I would like to recognize all of these women today in this post. The women who make up 11.5% of engineers in the US, 7.5% of installation and maintenance repair workers, 1.6% of automotive service technicians, 20% of computer software engineers, and so forth.
I’ve been privileged to know many women making their own way in male-dominated fields. I’d like to recognize one in particular – Oulekemi (Kemi) Macaulay-Newman. She was an intern at IWITTS many years ago and she now consults nationally on IT security. Originally from Nigeria, she came to the U.S. when she was 14, studied computer science at a local community college, graduated with a B.S. in Mathematics from UC Berkeley, and went on to get a degree in IT security at John Hopkins. Today, at 28, she juggles her roles of IT security professional, business owner (House of Botori), mom to a three-year-old son, wife and daughter. Kemi is not a pioneer – she is not one of the first women to be successful in IT security – but she is still one of very few and she has overcome many challenges to get where she is today. I am proud to be her junior mom in the African tradition and I am proud of ALL the women forging the path for the others that are coming behind them. During this Women’s History Month I would like to recognize women like Kemi who are working in fields where they are still underrepresented – and forging the path for others.
Do you have a woman you’d like to celebrate, please post her story on my blog, I’d love to hear about her.
I want to highly recommend the book, King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village. I was so moved by the story of Peggielene Bartels, an American secretary for the Ghanaian Embassy who is selected to be king of the small Ghanaian fishing village she was originally from. She agrees to be the king, which is an unpaid position, while continuing her life and job duties in the United States only to find out that the village elders selected her because they want to be able to continue to siphon money away from the community to their personal pockets. King Peggy transforms this small fishing village of 7,000 by standing up to the elders, and using taxes to bring clean water to the village and education to the children. She navigates the male-dominated world of being a king and holds her ground while maintaining her femininity and respecting the traditions of the elders. King Peggy was not raised to be king, yet she figures out how to do so by drawing upon her inner fortitude and religion during difficult moments. Peggielene Bartels proves what a successful king a woman can be.
I’m blogging about King Peggy on Valentine’s Day because this book is really about her love for her people and by the end of the book you can’t help but fall in love with her. She is an amazing woman and very approachable king. I was able to contact her on her Facebook page and I was thrilled when she responded. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.
Just a quick note to share with you this little video developed in France to interest more girls in STEM (the video is in English). Its message is one I’ve worked hard to get across: More women in STEM fields means more products and services that take women into account! When women aren’t represented on design teams and research groups we end up with crash test dummies based on the male body and prescription pills that haven’t been properly tested on women. It’s crucial that women work in STEM, so that STEM fields remember to take women into account. We need more videos like this one in the US! Who is up to the challenging of making one?
In November, US News and World Report ran a story entitled, “STEM Students Must Be Taught to Fail: Failure will teach students to take the risks necessary for innovation.” I took note because in my WomenTech Educators retention training, I teach STEM educators to teach their students to fail and I go into some detail on how to accomplish this. Learning how to fail is especially important for female students, who have often been culturally conditioned to be perfectionists. Ironically, their desire to get the “right” answer the first time can impede their ability to experiment, fail, try again, and eventually come up with the real right answer. Successful STEM students must learn to try a solution, get it wrong, and try again because this is a fundamental element of the science and technology experimentation process they must master to be successful in their STEM courses and career. According to the US News and World Report story, this unwillingness to take a risk and make a mistake is a problem that impacts both female and male students – and sometimes even their instructors. STEM educators, I’d love to hear from you if you teach your students how to fail: How do you do it? BTW, my next WomenTech Educators Training will be online and starts February 25, 2013. Don’t miss the early bird registration ending next week on January 11, 2013.
Have you noticed that there are very few games for girls that teach STEM skills? This is a huge missed opportunity because STEM skills learned through informal play translate into STEM skills in the classroom and an interest in science, technology, engineering and math! Recently, I was very upset to learn that PicoCrickets – MIT Lab’s more feminine alternative to the very masculine Lego Mindstorms – was discontinued. While Lego Mindstorms teach robotics and computer programming with monsters, PicoCrickets taught the same skills by making a cake sing and a cat purr. We have research in our online Proven Practices Collection that shows girls love PicoCrickets and they are effective in teaching STEM skills.
So I was really excited to come across a new toy called Roominate that puts a new spin on playing house. Girls learn how to not only the build the house with custom parts they also learn how to wire it with circuits. It was developed by three young female engineers who put it on Kickstarter to raise funds for its launch: Instead of receiving $25,000 as hoped, they received $85,965. I’m so happy that others see the value of this game too! If you’d like to read more about Roominate and see a video about them visit the Smithsonian blog.
Another new toy for girls that I read about recently is called “GoldieBlox”. GoldieBlox, developed by a female engineer from Stanford, is a construction toy and book series starring Goldie, a kid inventor who loves to build. As girls read along with the story, they use the construction set to learn the same kinds of building and problem solving skills that boys tend to learn with Legos and Erector sets. You can read more about Goldie Blox, and the Kickstarter campaign that’s funding it, in this article from the Atlantic.
These toys remind me of one of the SciGirls videos: Get Tech, which has a segment called “High Tech Fashion”. The SciGirls, a group of real middle school girls, teams up with fashion designer Diana Eng to create a high tech evening dress, using circuits of blinking LEDs and electroluminescent wire.
My prediction is that when we have as many games that teach STEM skills that appeal to girls as we do for boys, we will have as many girls as boys interested in STEM.
Do you know of games that appeal to girls that teach STEM skills? Please let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear about them.
Can you believe that in 2012 the majority of car crash test dummies are men? This means that the crash test ratings you may have read from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are unreliable if you are a woman. A 2010 study by the University of Virginia’s Center for Applied Biomechanics found that seat-belted female drivers in actual crashes had a 47% higher chance of serious injuries than belted male drivers. That percentage goes up to 71% for crashes resulting in moderate injuries. Only since 2011 has the federal government replaced some male dummies with female dummies for crash tests. However female dummies are still not tested in the driver’s seat in frontal crash tests, even though most fatalities are from frontal crashes.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the reason for this is that men drive more and die in greater numbers than female drivers. Yet in 2010, women were 44.1% of primary car buyers.
Because women are smaller in height compared to men, they are closer to the dashboard and this is why it’s so important to have female dummies. Additionally, women’s bodies are different; they have weaker necks for example. First generation air bags from 1998 disproportionately injured those under 5’4”, predominantly women and children, because male dummies were used. Why in 2012 are women still being left out of the picture?
I believe it’s because women are not well represented in the auto industry. Only 2.8% of car dealerships are owned by women, they make up only 11.5% corporate officers in the Motor Vehicles and parts industry, and 12.4% on board of directors. In 2010 women made up only 13% of the automotive sales workforce and 1.4% of automotive technicians. I was not able to find the percentage of women in auto design nationally, however I would venture to guess it’s not high.
To hear more about women in the auto industry listen to a radio show I participated in on National Public Radio.
Personally I believe increasing the number of women in the auto industry is a life or death matter. What do you think?
I don’t know how many times I have talked to educators who told me they have tried to increase the number of women in STEM but their efforts just didn’t work, so they stopped trying. “What did you do?” I’ll say. “Oh we put up a flyer,” or “We had an open house that few women came to,” is often the kind of response I get. Well, I know that there are at least 24 major evidence-based recruitment strategies they might have tried. (I know this from the STEM Program Readiness Assessment for Women and Girls that we are developing. Look out for more about the Assessment coming soon!)
It’s interesting to me, the same technology educators who might stay up all night trying to figure out how to make a computer program work, and are very familiar with the world of work-a-rounds, just give up when the first thing they try doesn’t work to recruit more women or girls to STEM. Why is that? I’d love your comments and thoughts about this.
PS If you’d like to learn what those 24 strategies are, check out our online training.
Did you, like me, watch Gabby Douglas win two gold medals in the 2012 Summer Olympics? I was so happy when she won gold medals in both the individual and team all-around competitions. What a star!
What struck me, as I watched Gabby, was that although she made some serious mistakes throughout her routines while competing – such as her fall on the balance beam – she didn’t let it shake her, she didn’t quit, she just kept going, maintained her focus and did her best. And her reward? Two gold medals!
So often women suffer from perfectionism – which results in an all or nothing approach for them in life – that can mean that as soon as they make a serious mistake, they give up, rather than try again and keep going like Gabby. Research shows that when women get a poor or failing grade in STEM courses they think it’s because they aren’t well-suited for the field and often drop out. By contrast, men are more likely to think the problem was something external, such as a poor teacher, and repeat the course.
We have a number of articles in our Proven Practices Collection about retention of women in STEM that document this phenomenon and we are soon to add more! I also talk about how to counteract this dynamic with your female students in my WomenTech Educators online training.
Gabby Douglas shows us that you can be a champion and win the gold by being outstanding, taking your mistakes in stride and focusing on the future.
Educators, have you seen this perfectionism phenomenon in your classes with women in STEM? How have you overcome this?
A few weeks back I saw the documentary, “Calypso Rose: Lioness of the Jungle,” about the first professional woman Calypso singer from Trinidad. Calypso Rose was the first woman to win the Calypso King contest and the Trinidad Road March competition in the 1970s. Still performing at 72 years old, she’s now written more than 800 songs. Some of her calypsos are about women’s issues such as domestic violence, and she’s used her platform of music to bring awareness around the world.
In her documentary, she talks about how much resistance she faced as the first woman calypso singer and many of the stories she told sounded so familiar – they are the stories of all women breaking into a man’s world. First, how fellow musicians tried to ban her from competing in the formerly all-male Calypso King contest, but she persisted and eventually even won the competition. Later she talked about how she was so careful not to have relations with any of the other musicians she was working with, and living with, in the Calypso tents, yet there were still rumors that she was sleeping with all the male musicians and then other rumors that she was sleeping with the female musicians. Through it all, she kept her head high, and focused on her music.
During the film, a professional female calypso singer from St. Lucia meets Calypso Rose for the first time and is overcome with emotion. She tells Calypso Rose that she has been her role model all of her life and that she helped her to see it was possible for her to pursue her own career in this male-dominated genre of music. While today, we don’t have that many more women firsts remaining in the US, the dynamic is still the same for women and girls who might be the firsts in their families, their communities, their schools, and among their friends. They still need the hope and inspiration of the female role models who have gone before them so that they know they too can do it. Not everyone can be a pioneer like Calypso Rose, pioneers by their nature are few in numbers, but all girls can feel it’s possible to be a Calypso singer, a drummer like Sheila E, an astronaut like Sally Ride, or a surgeon general like Dr. Joycelyn Elders. Or equally important, a computer network technician perhaps like her Aunt, a geographic information systems analyst like her sister, or an auto technician like her neighbor Sue. Female role models help women and girls see their own unlimited potential.
Is there a female role model who inspired you? Please share in the comments the person in your life who helped you see your own potential.
PS I love Calypso Rose’s music, and following the documentary I went home and downloaded her Best of Calypso Rose album and it’s my new work out music playlist! You can’t but help move when you are listening to it. Go to her website to hear her music and see clips from her documentary. I’d love to share the joy of Calypso Rose’s music with all of you!