When it comes to women in science and engineering, there is a shortage. Little girls are just as curious about the world around them as little boys, but somewhere between examining snails on the sidewalk and taking AP Calculus, they don’t seem to show up in representative numbers. Educators and researchers continue to try to pinpoint the source.
Many of you may have already seen the video link below that went viral several years ago. In the ad, three girls are bored watching princesses in pink on TV. So they grab a tool kit, goggles and hard hats and set to work building a machine that sends pink teacups and baby dolls flying through the house, using umbrellas, ladders and, of course, GoldieBlox toys. I often tell my engineer husband that more young women would go into engineering if the hard hats were another color than white and that everyone didn’t have to drive a truck and more importantly that their teachers were challenging them with engineering problems that appeal more to their interests.
Preparation for engineering professions is more than the single message many girls hear – take more math and science classes.Women want to be creative and collaborative. They want to design systems that make people healthier and safer and preserve the environment and make the world a better place. What they don’t hear is that scientists and engineers do all of these things. Engineers design everything – absolutely everything – in our built environment. Engineers are much more than a single story. So encourage a girl to be curious today and every day. Boys too.
Less Doll, More Awl
Mom worked full-time while raising four children and she wanted it to be easier for me than it was for her. When I was in high school, she bought me a t-shirt that said, “A Woman’s Place is in the House and the Senate” and I recall both positive and negative remarks from teachers and classmates when I proudly wore it to school. Mom was a proud feminist, subscribed to Ms. magazine, and referred to herself as a member of the “women’s libber movement“.
I remember conversations with my Mom about discriminatory work practices that were so common in her generation and still in mine. I was sexually harassed when I was younger. I was french kissed by one boss while still in high school and in another, whistled at and catcalled every time I walked out on a factory floor. Female co-workers would warn me about certain male bosses not to accept lunch invitations from. When I had a joint banking account with my husband at a local credit union in the 80’s, I wasn’t allowed to conduct certain financial transactions because he was listed as the “primary” on the account.
Mom shared a ridiculous story about when she smoked in her early twenties, which was in the 1950’s, that she had to do so in the basement of her own home because good wives of teachers didn’t smoke in public or were even seen smoking through their own home windows.
Mom was my role model. She showed me how to juggle career and family on a daily basis, how to get organized, how to manage my time, how to carve out small moments for self-care, how to stand up for myself and how to ask for help and get it. She helped many women and children in her career in social services trying to reduce barriers, provide support, and improve the human condition.
I know Mom would be surprised by today’s attacks on human rights and would support a renewed wave of support for all to include policies to:
- pay the same as men do for the same job
- recognize and value doing so much of the hard work required or expected of raising children
- become much better at supporting working women, and mothers
- support choices
- control our own destiny in this world, without regard to our gender, race and physical appearance
Mom died a long time ago when I was in my 30’s. What would Mom say if she was alive today?
I know she would be shocked at current events especially the hate talk, backtracking on human rights and loss of decorum in our government leaders. She would say – you can do and be better.
When I was a little girl, left in the care of my father, he would often take me along with him to work on week-ends and during the summer months. His job at the time was principal of small rural high school. About the size of Brock for those readers from Texas.
I tagged along behind him trying to keep up with the strides of a 6’4″ rather imposing figure as we entered the empty halls of the deserted school building. Dad’s job entailed it all — from distributing the mail, to scheduling the basic repairs and maintenance for the building during down time, to hiring all the staff, and to communicating with parents about future school plans and concerns. He would point me in the direction of an empty desk in the office, give me a box of colored pencils and some white copy paper to keep me quiet while he completed his tasks at hand, often leaving me alone in the office while he was in other parts of the building or chatting with the custodial staff or coaches.
My dad, before his job as a principal, was a biology teacher. He loved to explain to me why my eyes were blue, just like his,while mom’s were green. While he was not an especially artistic person, he did show me how to draw amoebas which I did with great attention to detail using many different shades of color and combinations. I didn’t know at the time what all these amoeba parts were called or their function but I imagined chocolate chip cookies, suns and planets inside a lake. My dad encouraged my creativity and gave me the gift of time and an important parenting technique that I call, benign neglect. I spent quite a few hours drawing amoebas of varying sizes and shapes, often stopping to sharpen my pencil on the wall-mounted sharpener next to my desk.
Practicing benign neglect as a parent is not about abdicating responsibility, ignoring limits, or letting go of all boundaries. On the contrary. It is about creating clear limits and boundaries, which all children need (I knew not to leave the office except to go down the hall to the bathroom) allowing for enough freedom within those limits for true learning to occur. It is about watching and waiting and being intentional in the ways we intervene. It’s about allowing our children to feel some discomfort, letting them struggle, and helping them work through it. It is about loving them enough to let them experience the world in a way that lets them grow and learn, even when, with every fiber of our being, we want to shield and protect them from the bumps and bruises they will get along the way.
So in 2017, give a kid a little benign neglect (the only love I know): a packet of colored pencils, blank paper, a quiet corner and see what they create.