Consumer culture incessantly rebrands and sells the outdated lie that women don’t belong in STEM, and the Lego Industry is one of its most honourable tools. It’s hard to believe colourful building blocks could dramatically taint a young girl’s perception. But at six years of age I observed stale stereotypes in full effect when pottering through the Lego aisle––––the sets focused on caretaking were distinctly for girls and heroic sets were marketed to boys encouraging them to transform into doctors and astronauts. This negatively impacted my understanding of STEM careers: I never dreamed of becoming an Engineer at six. I was convinced Engineers were men in yellow hardhats, operating jackhammers or giant machinery and I wanted no part of it until tenth grade.
One day, my science teacher talked about Rosalind Franklin who discovered double helix DNA and for the first time in class, the scientist in question was a woman. I didn’t know whether this was because the curriculum was designed that way or because there weren’t that many to discuss. But I felt a surge of pride and assurance. Out of curiosity, I started researching women in STEM, adversities they faced and mistreatments they endured. I waded through hours of accounts and extensive lists of intellectuals, scientists, and engineers. When I concluded my research, I decided that I too would brave this male-dominated field. Application season came by and I made the bold decision to study Biomedical Engineering. After hearing this, a family friend asked if I was “sure about going into engineering” then recommended “as a woman and wife-to-be, [I] take on something lighter.” I was rightfully infuriated but fortunately for me, these remarks only fueled my desire to pursue a STEM career.
This is not always the case!
All over the world, women are turning down the opportunity to challenge norms because of discouragement from family, friends, media, etc. However, the confidence of women like myself can be positively shaped beyond a shadow of a doubt if we are shown earlier on in life that we can become innovators. Changing society requires joint effort from men and women alike since women aren’t the only ones that stand to lose from underrepresentation. The absence of women is an enormous setback for any organization looking to withstand rapid changes in science and technology fields. And together, we can solve this problem starting with youth! Toy companies should cater toys to teach girls and boys that they can succeed in any occupation they please. Toy stores should discontinue brands force-feeding girls the narrative that they should stick to ‘safer’ and less adventurous careers. Schools need to start talking about women like Hedy Lamarr who created ground-breaking technology that would later lead to Bluetooth’s creation and Rosalind Franklin whose role was unfairly concealed. Because if someone told me what an incredibly ambitious woman with giant machinery could accomplish when I was six, I would have chosen to enter STEM from the jump!