Women have been part of many major developments in science, particularly computer science. While Countess Ada Lovelace first theorized the modern computer in the 1840s, these devices were developed and programmed by women a century later during the second World War. Despite women’s contributions to the sciences, after the war, women were excluded from many areas of technology. Barriers to women in STEM now seem to establish themselves early in a girl’s development, and grow stronger as she grows older. A common obstacle to female participation in male dominated fields is a lack of childhood association with these fields. This is done in several ways, sometimes not intentionally; however it must be contested if more women are to be seen in STEM and other male-centric professions.
As captain of my high school’s FIRST Robotics team, and one of few girls on the team, encouraging female participation in STEM was an important goal of mine during student activities fairs. My main argument in favor of any student joining the robotics club was the opportunities present in engineering. It became apparent that while boys’ parents pushed their children to sign up (whether or not their child was interested), many of the girls’ parents gave the excuse that their child would not be interested, or would find the club too difficult to participate in. Despite the bountiful opportunities available to young engineers, parents were not willing to challenge their girls with the prospect of STEM careers. Directing young women away from opportunities in this manner has great bearing on their decision making later in life, as they might make “feminine” choices rather than beneficial ones. In this way, parents can unintentionally become an obstacle to their girls’ success. Simply introducing the challenge of STEM activities to young women will spur growth in their participation in the sciences and in other fields ripe with opportunity.
Furthermore, engineering is a mindset. As is evidenced by the plethora of subcategories of the field, engineering is fundamentally the method by which problems are solved. A child’s mind is naturally inquisitive, and will sometimes produce questions best answered by scientific inquiry. Encouraging girls to explore the answers to simple questions through logical thinking can develop this inquisitiveness into a desire to solve more complex problems. This is the way I discovered my love for engineering, and is how many boys are encouraged to explore the world around them. By encouraging young girls to research and build solutions to problems, the premises for engineering will be established in their minds.
Many aspects of childhood factor into a person’s desires as an adult. Career choices are often fueled, at their roots, by childhood dreams. Allowing young girls the opportunity to develop their interests in the sciences has historically made way for new areas of science. In Ada Lovelace’s case, allowing her to develop her mind mathematically and artistically produced the first concepts of a modern computer. Giving this opportunity to all girls could allow technology to advance spectacularly.