a new generation of scientists and engineers- 9.27.12
A recent article in the New York Times gave many of us pause - men and women alike. A study out of Yale appears to confirm that gender bias is alive and well, certainly in the field of Science. The study concerned the rating of an average scientist, described in the same one page summary, by science professors at six universities. Of course, you guessed it, half of the professors were given descriptions in which the scientist was named John, and half in which the scientist was named Jennifer. And yes, John was rated more favorably than was Jennifer, and he was deemed to be worth a higher salary than his female alter ego.
So, point one - gender bias is real, it is here, and despite rumors to the contrary, it does not appear to be going anywhere.
Point two, which was surprising to me – female science professors were as likely to evaluate Jennifer more poorly than John as were their male counterparts. One might have imagined a different scenario; these women, after all, came up through the same gender biased ranks. How unrealistic would it be to assume that they would be at least equally as willing to mentor and take a chance on Jennifer than on John?
One might conclude that we are all, despite our best intentions, the products of a cultural paradigm that suggests that men excel in science. And women do not. And so, it is incumbent upon those of us who work with the next generation of women, scientists or not, to create a new paradigm, one in which Jennifer is rated as favorably as John.
We must start early. Look at Debbie Sterling for example. Debbie, a Stanford- educated engineer, designed a toy for girls (GoldieBlox) aimed at developing girls’ spatial skills – skills that are of primary importance in the lives of engineers. Unlike other toy companies, she is not merely turning blocks pink and calling them “designed for girls”. Instead, she created a series of storybooks in which Goldie and her friends must solve a series of puzzles. Debbie realized that in order to make the toy attractive to girls she had to create a context in which the puzzles were relevant, so girls might be more inclined to solve them.
This, by the way, is what the best teachers do in the classroom (for girls and boys) – they make material immediately relevant to the lives of their students. Understanding how what you are doing is important helps motivate students to engage more deeply with the subject matter.
Truth be told, I wish that the toy came in a different color than pink. Honestly, I will confess that the toy could be marketed to both boys and girls (and yes, I realize the argument is that boys already have plenty of building toys marketed to them). But aside from those minor misgivings, I think GoldieBlox is brilliant. I think it shifts the role of girls from damsels in distress to problem solvers. Girls can use their strong empathic ability to understand why Goldie needs help and they can use their developing spatial ability to create the tool Goldie needs to get out of her predicament.
It is too early to predict whether or not Goldie and other toys like her will make a difference in gender-biased perceptions of who is a good scientist – or engineer. We won’t know for at least a decade. What we do know is that she has her work cut out for her.
For more information on GoldieBlox, please visit www.goldieblox.com
To read the New York Times article mentioned above, please use this link
Thursday September, 27, 2012
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