Why Women Don't Choose Science & Engineering Careers

By Michael Edmonds 13/06/2014

I just found this very clever clip which I think demonstrates one of the reasons why we don’t have more women in engineering & the sciences.

0 Responses to “Why Women Don't Choose Science & Engineering Careers”

  • Thanks for sharing this. I’m a father of two young girls. It’s a lonely and uphill battle trying to expose them to science. Everyone around us ‘knows’ that science, dinosaurs, and construction toys are for boys, and fairies, dolls, and tea sets are for girls. Trying to make sure that they get a good mix of all these toys is difficult because I’m working against a society that has fallen for the helpless pink consumer princess marketing hype.

    Do you know of any organisations promoting science for young girls (or a welcoming unisex group) in Auckland – preferably on the North Shore? How can my daughters meet other girls of similar ages who are also interested in science? Seeing peers – especially other girls – interested in science will do much more than I could ever do as a father.

    • Hi Bart

      Great question, there is a robotics group that goes to different schools and libraries around Auckland, I’ll see if I can track down the details.
      Other than that, perhaps someone from the Auckland area might be able to give you some ideas.
      Providing them access to a wide range of books from the public library and visits to museums etc is good too.

  • Hi Bart,

    Speaking as a woman who was an engineer, with a geologist for a father, I would say that there’s a lot you can do as a science Dad. Friends who share your interests are nice, but it’s also good to have someone who can provide a foundation and a backup. The most important things, in my opinion, are (a) answer their questions, and ask questions in return (even if the topic bores you stiff), and (b) do things *with* them, don’t just show them or leave them to do things alone.

    I obviously don’t know the ages or personalities of your girls, but beyond toys (and over time):
    – Teach them cooking, gardening, and how to fix blown fuses and leaky pipes (also known as chemistry, biology, and engineering). Make sure they also know when to ask the experts.
    – Get them started on the practical uses of trigonometry and algebra early, before they get discouraged. Also, fractals are fascinating.
    – Teach them how to draw, to knit, and to code (Excel macros are a good starting point), and how to budget their pocket money.
    – Show them how to read maps, circuit diagrams, musical scores, and the sky.
    – Let them read Sherlock Holmes, Sophie’s World, The Lord of the Rings, the Vorkosigan series (forward momentum!), and Godel Escher Bach. At the appropriate age, I guess.
    – Explain Socratic Irony to them, and be prepared for the consequences 🙂
    – Be willing to discuss science, psychology, philosophy, politics, humour, history, ecology, music, literature, linguistics, language, mythology, morality, ethics, and the astonishing stupidity of people in general (I do remember being a teenager). Give them the respect of assuming they’ve thought about these concepts a bit, even if you think they are wrong.
    – Be willing to say “I don’t know”. Give them the tools to answer those questions for themselves.
    – Explain the difference between a experiment that doesn’t work, and one where the results are just not what was expected, and why this isn’t a bad thing. Remind them that they still have to clean the ceiling.

    More generally (and probably more for teenagers):
    – Help them to be sceptical rather than cynical, and realistic rather than over-optimistic.
    – Let them get dirty, make a mess, and burn their fingers (within reason). Help them clean up and be ready with the first-aid kit. Make sure they learn first aid and self-defense.
    – Get them involved with civil defense as soon as they are old enough. It will either make them paranoid or unflappable.
    – Give them advice when they ask for it, and don’t get upset if they decide not to follow it. Insisting you can’t advise them because “they need to make their own decisions” is a cop-out.
    – Teach them to pick their battles: when to stand their ground, when to retreat, and when to smile-and-nod and do it anyway. This will probably come back to bite you, but at least you can be proud.

    I’m sorry for going a bit overboard here, (oh, mini hot air balloons!), but the question kinda stuck in my head. I, um, hope it helps?

  • Um. Oops? Sorry, the comment field is a little small, and I didn’t realise what a wall-o-text it was until I hit post.

  • What Michael said – what wonderful constructive comments, Alpherae. (When I think about it, my parents were much as you describe; we were really lucky children – even if we didn’t recognise it at the time!)

  • Agreeing here with Michael and Alison. Awesome list, Alpherae! I might just try introducing my 15 year old lad to Socratic irony – he is a member of his school’s feminist club and often is exposed to negative comments from his peers about how ‘extreme’ the views of the club are .. it could be a good method for teasing out their views and finding out what they really mean

  • Wow, thanks for that list, Alpherae. I’ve already printed it out (after a little wall-o-text re-formatting) and stuck it on my wall to remind myself from time to time. Partly because it’s a good list, and partly because it will remind me that there is a lot that *I* can do.

  • Alpherae: Um. Oops? Sorry…

    No apology necessary. That was brilliant! It should be in parenting books (and libraries, and doctors waiting rooms, and…) across the world.