Computers and their connectivity are amazing, aren't they? We really need to thank the men who made these things possible... Or should I say, women? As a robotics student, I grew up hearing a good number of arguments trying to justify the lack of women in the technology field (and subtly, disqualify my work). My favourite one was "you know, only men contributed significantly to the sciences". Oh, the irony... the first programmer in the world and the inventor of the system that was the base for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth were both women.
It is no surprise that names such as Ada Lovelace and Hedy Lamarr are almost forgotten. In a society in which women are seen as the other, history is told by the perspective of men, and we are bounded to see the world as their exclusive creation. This lack of representativeness in STEM perpetuates the taboo that these areas are not for women.
When I entered robotics, most girls eventually dropped classes, not only because of in-class misogyny reproduced by colleagues, but also because of the social stigma implying that robotics was a thing for boys. This taboo is everywhere, from the apparent absence of female STEM role-models to the computer engineer Barbie that needs the help of men to do simple tasks on the computer.
The main reasons I didn't quit robotics when I already felt overwhelmed were the assistance and inspiration that my department coordinator provided me with.
"But wait, maybe men are better than women in STEM. You know, women are artsier". Well, this study (yet to be peer-reviewed) shows that women are considered better coders than men, but only when their gender is not known. The lack of women in STEM also reflects on a country's economy: there is a rising demand for STEM-related workers, and ignoring women would be cutting off half of the possible workforce. In addition, women in STEM make more money, which enhances their purchasing power, which is both good for them and the national economy.
Not stimulating girls while still at school to engage in STEM related-areas has its consequences on the female labour force: in middle school, 74 per cent of girls show interest in STEM fields, while in high school, only 0.4 per cent of girls want to major in Computer Sciences. How can we change that? I include myself as a positive example.
The main reasons I didn't quit robotics when I already felt overwhelmed were the assistance and inspiration that my department coordinator provided me with. The environment was hostile many times, but I had a strong female role-model to stick to, which made me believe that one day things could change. I became proactive in fighting against misogyny. While I deepened my knowledge in women's issues, I became a research leader and began mentoring younger girls. Eventually, girl evasion rates lowered, and now, in my school, there are robotics groups with equal gender representation.
Breaking taboos involves showing girls female role models, educating boys to have empathy, and creating an environment free of gender oppression. Thankfully, there are people working on that. Organizations such as G(irls)20 , in which I will take part as the Brazilian Delegate of the 2016 Summit, aims to economically empower girls and women, and can make a real difference in how society sees female labour force participation, and can contribute to social and economic change. Girls and women need to see themselves as capable of succeeding in STEM, and feel comfortable in their workplace. It is time to encourage girls to be Adas and Hedys, and show that STEM like a girl is something to be proud of.
By Ana Carolina Queiroz, G(irls)20 Delegate, Brazil
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