GeekGirlCon 2011 / Computer Engineer Barbie: Attracting Girls to STEM Careers

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Why don't young girls choose careers in science and technology fields? How can we make a difference? We explore the damaging effects of stereotypes and outdated curricula, and cover ways that you can make a difference in evangelizing STEM careers to girls in your life, today.

Originally delivered at the first annual GeekGirlCon on Oct 9, 2011 in Seattle, WA.

This is a longer, more general-purpose version of the original talk I gave at Interaction '11 in Boulder, CO (also available on Slideshare).

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  • I want you to help me change the world, and I’m here to tell you how and why. You have the power to change dozens of lives, if not hundreds, with just a few hours of time per year.
  • My background includes:Undergraduate degree, graduate study, and employment at Carnegie Mellon UniversityEmployment at MAYA Design, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Electronic Arts/Maxis, Griptonite Games, and Microsoft.I have lots of personal experience and passion on this subject:Dave to Girl ratio at CMUTime working in video games, a very male-oriented industryThis is why I got started volunteering – I figured my background would be compelling to young girls.
  • My current projects:- UX Designer on System Center Configuration Manager 2012 at MicrosoftVice President for IGNITE (Inspiring Girls in Technology Evolution)Performer at Seattle TheatreSports
  • Prologue: samStudiosI work with a fantastically diverse group of user experience professionals at Microsoft, and I realized one day that we were 40% female. Coming from my computer science classes with classically low female participation, and my time in the games industry leading all-male teams, this was a rather shocking revalation that led me down a new road…
  • Special thanks to Erin Chapple and Derick Campbell for the pointers to this information. Derek’s talk: http://docs.com/AFKE
  • Collaboration is very important to many women seeking a career choice, and it’s the perceived lack of collaboration that contributes to both a recruiting problem and then a retention problem.
  • ALSO: This isn’t *just* about girls, but they’re hugely underrepresented.
  • Other STEM careers are still unbalanced but the ratio is not as skewed.NCWIT.org: 28% of computer scientists in 2008 were female. Only 18% of CS degree recipients were female.Yes, progress was made – but now we’re LOSING ground.Some folks take that progress for granted – but my team’s lead was in Utah this year to teach a workshop to high school girls, and they complained that their guidance counselors were telling them to take sewing classes over technology classes.
  • The popular media portrayal of computer science is neither flattering nor compatible with a ‘feminine’ image.
  • Sheryl Sandberg story: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/07/11/110711fa_fact_auletta?currentPage=3Sandberg says that the impact of popular culture struck her when her son was playing a Star Wars game. “When I grow up, I want to live in space and be a Star Wars person as a job,” he told his mother.“I’d like to come, too,” she responded, “because I always want to live near you.”“You can’t come,” he said. “I’ve already invited my sister, and there’s only one girl in space.”At first, Sandberg laughed. And then it dawned on her that “there is only one woman in these movies.”Read more http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/07/11/110711fa_fact_auletta#ixzz1aGHsfimr
  • In school, perception is everything. Especially for girls.*Most of the things in this talk can be applied to either gender; however, it makes sense to concentrate on girls because they are so vastly underrepresented in STEM careers.
  • Girls have no role models in technology. When I go to schools, we ask, “How many of you know a women in a science or technology career?” In rooms of 60 girls, you might see one or two hands go up. The rest only have the media’s portrayal to go by – and in a world where they’re desperately looking for role models, we’ve lost the battle.
  • Fun trivia fact: The launch of the doll was delayed when they realized the phone they had given her was outdated.
  • Barbie is often controversial and accused of reinforcing gender stereotypes. Computer Engineer Barbie’s existence turns this around to our advantage – if Barbie represents femininity to young girls, AND Barbie can be a computer engineer, then computer engineers can be feminine too! At least in the eyes of a 9-year old girl.But one doll won’t change the world. It’s just the opportunity knocking at our door.
  • Ada Lovelace, “Enchantressof Numbers”, widely recognized as the first computer engineer. She documented the first known algorithm intended for processing by a machine. She’s gained some increased notoriety in recent years as the topic of women in technology gains more momentum.March 24th is celebrated as Ada Lovelace day.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ada_Lovelace
  • Did you know there’s a women in technology hall of fame? Or that the first ENIAC programmers were women?
  • Mary might actually be referring to researchers working on the women-in-technology problem, but I think this philosophy applies to the actual problem itself. Young women are forced to make a binary decision between social sciences and hard sciences – and given societal pressure, gender aptitudes, and perceptions, most women gravitate towards social sciences. What if we didn’t force them to make that choice?
  • I had always been looking for a field that blended art and technology, but despite actively searching didn’t hear about HCI until my college visit to Carnegie Mellon.
  • And let’s face it – everyone who uses technology has had an interaction design idea at some point. When I talk to young girls at high schools, they all raise their hands when I ask who can remember a time they were frustrated with a computer, or when a computer did something they didn’t expect it to do. Girls – and boys – will readily see the application and benefit of this work in their lives and the lives of others.
  • Just one example, but a reasonable one. Carnegie Mellon’s freshman computer science curriculum includes the theory of NP-completeness: essentially, students are asked to prove that a problem is unsolvable. What societal benefit does that provide? No attention was given to covering the applications of computer science in society outside the university’s walls. The experience of women in CMU’s CS curriculum is covered in great detail in “Unlocking the Clubhouse” by Jane Margolis: http://www.amazon.com/Unlocking-Clubhouse-Computing-Jane-Margolis/dp/0262133989
  • Note that this isn’t even specific to women – this applies to all genders. The takeaway: By tweaking the way we present the subject matter, we stand a better chance of attracting a diverse set of students to the field.
  • Note that this isn’t even specific to women – this applies to all genders. The takeaway: By tweaking the way we present the subject matter, we stand a better chance of attracting a diverse set of students to the field.
  • Yes, even the income question. And lots of girls PERCEIVE themselves to be “bad” at math when they’re at the very least perfectly average… they just don’t find it fulfilling.
  • Collaboration is very important to many women seeking a career choice, and it’s the perceived lack of collaboration that contributes to both a recruiting problem and then a retention problem.
  • Collaboration is very important to many women seeking a career choice, and it’s the perceived lack of collaboration that contributes to both a recruiting problem and then a retention problem.
  • Girls are hungry for more information about the choices ahead of them, and they rarely have someone to turn to for those answers.We need to show them what they can become with the help of science and technology careers. Photo credit: Wendy Enden, Laughing Tabby PhotographyStarting line for IGNITE Bri
  • This is a call to action to anyone who works in interaction design. We’ll be evangelizing our career to the wider world AND opening girls’ (and boys’) minds to new opportunities.Just 10 hours a year… can you spare that time?
  • You can impact dozens of students with just a few hours at your local school. With a bit more effort, your influence doesn’t have to stop at our borders.
  • I’d like to “put my money where my mouth is”, and find a way to use our knowledge to improve the quality of our outreach.
  • Collaboration is very important to many women seeking a career choice, and it’s the perceived lack of collaboration that contributes to both a recruiting problem and then a retention problem.
  • This is a call to action to anyone who works in interaction design. We’ll be evangelizing our career to the wider world AND opening girls’ (and boys’) minds to new opportunities.Just 10 hours a year… can you spare that time?
  • Barbie is often controversial and accused of reinforcing gender stereotypes. Computer Engineer Barbie’s existence turns this around to our advantage – if Barbie represents femininity to young girls, AND Barbie can be a computer engineer, then computer engineers can be feminine too! At least in the eyes of a 9-year old girl.But one doll won’t change the world. It’s just the opportunity knocking at our door.
  • Alan has some really interesting arguments, and in the end we both have the same goals – but we come at it from two different angles. While Alan believes that we should be targeting both genders, since the goal is equal treatment, I believe we have to acknowledge the situation as it stands.
  • Collaboration is very important to many women seeking a career choice, and it’s the perceived lack of collaboration that contributes to both a recruiting problem and then a retention problem.
  • They’re teaching young girls about the concept of “code!” Of course, they’ve reduced it to a match-3 game, but it’s something, right?
  • Remember to move to end slides!!
  • $$ vs. societal benefitMalaysia – more female computer engineers than men… why?PerceptionCurriculumLocal
  • GeekGirlCon 2011 / Computer Engineer Barbie: Attracting Girls to STEM Careers

    1. 1. Computer Engineer Barbie:Attracting a new generation ofwomen to technology careersCheryl PlatzSenior User Experience Designer, MicrosoftVice-President of the Board, IGNITE Worldwidecheryl@cherylplatz.com@muppetaphrodite
    2. 2. I want you to help me change the world, and I’m here to tell you how and why.Cheryl Platz 2
    3. 3. My background:Cheryl Platz 3
    4. 4. My background: My current workCheryl Platz 4
    5. 5. Prologue: My user experience team in Microsoft’s Server and Tools division is 40% female. 16 out of 40 employees as of May 2011. (The typical ratio in engineering disciplines is about 10%.) I realized that I’d never worked with so many women before – not even inentertainment. I started to wonder if there’s something particular and special about interaction design...Cheryl Platz 5
    6. 6. Q: Why is this our problem? What’s in it for us?Cheryl Platz 6
    7. 7. Q: Why is this our problem? What’s in it for us?A: The nation is falling behind – needlessly – and we are unable to fill science and technology openings with domestic talent. We’ve got the “special sauce” that can help reverse this worrisome trend.Cheryl Platz 7
    8. 8. Q: Why is this our problem? What’s in it for us?A: The nation is falling behind – needlessly – and we are unable to fill science and technology openings with domestic talent. We’ve got the “special sauce” that can help reverse this worrisome trend. ...Oh, and the financial upside is potentially huge.Cheryl Platz 8
    9. 9. “The Female Advantage” (from the Boston Globe) European firms with the highest proportion of women in power saw their stock value climb by 64 percent over two years, compared with an average of 47 percent, according to a 2007 study by the consulting firm McKinsey and Company. In a 2001 study, Pepperdine University researchers found that measured as a percent of revenues, profits at Fortune 500 firms that most aggressively promoted women were 34 percent higher than industry medians. “One recent study determined that women in senior management had an especially positive impact on firms involved in research and development.”Cheryl Platz 9
    10. 10. In short, a well-balanced workplace is more likely to innovate and succeed. But we‟re going to have to get involved to make sure balance is even an option in the future.Cheryl Platz
    11. 11. I’m going to focus on computer science education as the “canary in the coal mine” for STEM career decline: the field has some of the most promising job growth, yet paradoxically some of the largest attraction and retention issues.Cheryl Platz Interaction ’11 – Boulder, CO 11
    12. 12. Female interest in computer science is steadily declining. What happened after 1982? Peaked in 1982! My classCheryl Platz 12
    13. 13. Stereotypes happened.Cheryl Platz 13
    14. 14. “...There’s only one girl in space.” IxDA Seattle – May 11, 2011
    15. 15. In school, perception is everything.Especially for girls.Cheryl Platz 15
    16. 16. How can this... ...survive in their world?Cheryl Platz 16
    17. 17. Barbie’s 126th career: Computer Engineer. 17
    18. 18. Glasses Barbie’s 126th career: Computer Engineer. Bluetooth headset “Generic” touch phoneBinary shirt Practical flats 18
    19. 19. She may not seem like much, but this new Barbie represents an important step in changing the prevailing perception of technology careers for young women. There is growing momentum on this front: an opportunity to spread the word about technology careers. And it’s not just Barbie...Cheryl Platz 19
    20. 20. Cheryl Platz Interaction ’11 – Boulder, CO 20
    21. 21. On CNN.com: The “Top Secret Rosies” From the Women in Technology Hall of Fame: “The first programmers started out as "Computers." This was the name given by the Army to a group of over 80 women working at the University of Pennsylvania during World War II calculating ballisticstrajectories - complex differential equations - by hand. When the Army agreed to fund an experimental project, the first all-electronic digital computer, six "Computers" wereselected in 1945 to be its first programmers.” Cheryl Platz Interaction ’11 – Boulder, CO
    22. 22. So what’s making the women of tomorrow move away from STEM career choices?Cheryl Platz 22
    23. 23. So what’s making the women of tomorrow move away from STEM career choices? Practical flatsCheryl Platz 23
    24. 24. "One important first step towards bridging the digitaldivide is to close the disciplinary gap between the socialsciences (e.g. womens studies, ethnicstudies, psychology, and sociology) and the "hard"sciences (e.g. math, engineering, and computer science);these two discourses rarely intersect, either theoreticallyor practically.” Mary Kirk, “Gender and Information Technology: Moving Beyond Access to Co-Create Global Partnership”Cheryl Platz 24
    25. 25. Interaction design is a unique blend of three different traditional disciplines. Two of them are actually more gender-balanced. Visual Cognitive Computer Design Psychology Science 48% female 71% female 10% female * Data assembled from Payscale.com in August 2010, based on job titleCheryl Platz 25
    26. 26. Interaction design problems inherently combinecomputer science with skills that are traditionallyperceived as more desirable by female students.Interdisciplinary design problems are anideal vehicle for opening young women’sminds to the possibilities of science andtechnology careers.Cheryl Platz 26
    27. 27. And interaction design isn‟t the only STEM career that maypique girls‟ interest:Game Design HealthcareTell stories, collaborate, Make it easier for doctors todo what you love take care of patients Mechanical EngineeringBiomedical Design the physical Film & VideoEngineering world, from machines to theme park rides ProductionImprove quality of life by Work in entertainment, fromdefining a new generation animation to film editingof technology ...and many more...Cheryl Platz
    28. 28. But there‟s another problem. It‟s just as hard to retain girls in computer science as it is to attract them. Why? Computer science curriculums aren’t designed to adapt to the educational interests of female students.Cheryl Platz 28
    29. 29. Women are more likely to become intellectually engaged in a subject if it is presented in context, with proven societal benefit. Computer science curriculums are academic, often to a fault.Cheryl Platz 29
    30. 30. “Why Students With An Apparent Aptitude for Computer ScienceDon’t Choose to Major in Computer Science”(Lori Carter, SIGCSE Bulletin, 2006. Volume 38, p 27-31) Calculus and pre-calculus Two of the top three common deterrents: students (male and female) at nine schools in Arizona “My desire to sit in front of a computer all day” and California were asked to “I would like a more people-oriented major.” rank 11 items as having either positive, negative, or One of the top three positive influences: neutral influence on their consideration of computer “My desire to use computers in another field science as a potential major. (business, medicine, etc.)”Cheryl Platz 30
    31. 31. “Why Students With An Apparent Aptitude for Computer ScienceDon’t Choose to Major in Computer Science”(Lori Carter, SIGCSE Bulletin, 2006. Volume 38, p 27-31) Recommendations: Offer multi-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary programs to meet students desire to use computers in another field. Inform students about what computing really is to overcome its image of involving sitting in front of a computer all day and not being "people-oriented".Cheryl Platz 31
    32. 32. The key is in the messaging.What do girls want to know?Do I have to be awesome at math?Do I get to team up with other people?Can I study this at a community college? How long does it take?Is there time for me to have a family? Hobbies?How will the world be different because I do this work?How much can I make?What will my life be like?Cheryl Platz
    33. 33. Girls today picture science & tech careers like this: Cheryl Platz 33
    34. 34. Girls today picture science & tech careers like this: But we can show them a future that looks like this: 34 Cheryl Platz
    35. 35. We are the role models for this generation.Cheryl Platz
    36. 36. Stop being silently awesome. Share your passion about your “geeky” career. Share your success stories about the impact of your own STEM work.Share your enthusiasm about life outside the office. Share your daily life – what is it like to be you?Cheryl Platz
    37. 37. Let your experiences be abeacon for young girls looking to find their way in the world.Cheryl Platz
    38. 38. Reach out. Attend career fairs and talk about your work Host job shadows & office visits for interested students Set up workshops that let kids get hands-on with practical problems Encourage educators to show societal benefit of science and technology work Act as an advisor for educators designing curriculumsCheryl Platz 38
    39. 39. There are already a number of nonprofit organizationsworking to reach out to these students & looking for partners like you. The group I work with, IGNITE, sends technology professionals into schools to speak directly with young girls about their experiences. IGNITE also organizes field trips, job shadows, conferences, and mentoring. For more on IGNITE: http://facebook.com/IGNITEworldwideCheryl Platz 39
    40. 40. A little effort goes a long way. IGNITE chapter in Lagos, Nigeria IGNITE High School PresentationCheryl Platz 40
    41. 41. “I learned a lot about how everybody is like us and how they built their way up. I learned a lot about the future technology and how everything will cost less and people can have what they want. I also learned how toget a career in technology and at Microsoft. I would like to do more things like this.” (Student, Dec 2010) Look at what an impact “I liked the speakers because they were very you can make with just informative... I could relate to many of them. I learned two hours of your time. that many women do like engineering and technology. I never thought about it and am now considering it for my career. I thought this day was perfect. This These comments are just a fewexceeded my expectations. Thank you !” (Student, Dec 2010) of hundreds received each year from the girls themselves - afterI enjoyed the variety of presenters with the experiences they have and all of the great advice. The most just a single panel! interesting thing that I learned/heard today is it doesn’t matter what financial status you have, you should/can strive for your goal.” (Student, Nov 2010) Cheryl Platz 41
    42. 42. So what’s your goal?Imagine if everyone in this room spent a fewhours a year in an attempt to make a positive difference in the lives of young students...Cheryl Platz
    43. 43. And we‟re in luck... Seattle is a great place to start.Cheryl Platz
    44. 44. Other Local Opportunities: Annual DIGIGIRLZ technology camp Formal mentoring programs, e.g. Seattle Girls’ School TEALS teacher program (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools)Cheryl Platz 44
    45. 45. Q: Shouldn’t educators be doing this already? “While I earnestly support the idea that more girls should study math and science, I believe that the problem instead belongs to employers, educators, and the institutions they lead.” – Alan Cooper‟s response to this talkCheryl Platz 45
    46. 46. Q: Shouldn’t educators be doing this already? “While I earnestly support the idea that more girls should study math and science, I believe that the problem instead belongs to employers, educators, and the institutions they lead.” – Alan Cooper‟s response to this talkA: Of course, this is the eventual goal – but our nation’s educational system is poorly funded and supported. There’s no central body to socialize or enforce these changes. Rather than wait for someone else to make change, we can become agents of that change.Cheryl Platz 46
    47. 47. Rather than wait for someone else to affectchange, let’s become catalysts of the change we want to see. “If you want to affect culture change, you have to meet people where they are – not where you want them to be.” - Brenda LaurelCheryl Platz
    48. 48. In closing…Cheryl Platz 48
    49. 49. We’ve come a long way…Cheryl Platz 49
    50. 50. Cheryl Platz Interaction ’11 – Boulder, CO 50
    51. 51. …but our work has just begun. Stop being silently awesome. Spread the good word about STEM careers to students and educators in your community – you might just change a life.* *And at the very least, you’re investing in our youth and the country’s future while helping to educate the world about what we do!Cheryl Platz 51
    52. 52. Continuing the DiscussionTwitter: @muppetaphroditeWeb: http://cherylplatz.com/ http://blog.cherylplatz.com/Email: cheryl@cherylplatz.comCheryl Platz 52
    53. 53. Want to help IGNITE? Volunteer as a panelist, mentor or chaperone Donate to help us extend our reach Sponsor and support new chapters Follow us: http://facebook.com/IGNITEWorldwide http://twitter.com/IGNITEWorldwideCheryl Platz IxDA Seattle – May 11, 2011 53
    54. 54. References & Additional ReadingNCWIT: National Center for Women & IT – research, programs, partner organizationsBooks:  “Gender and Information Technology: Moving Beyond Access to Co-Create Global Partnership” (Mary Kirk)  “Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing” (Jane Margolis, Allan Fisher)Sample programs:  Microsoft‟s DigiGirlz technology camps  IGNITE Worldwide (school outreach)  Aspire / Society of Women Engineers (school outreach)  Alice.org: Free 3D visual programming software for kidsSample papers:“Evaluating the Effectiveness of a New Approach” – how use of the Alice student-orientedprogramming tool in CS courses „leveled the playing field‟ and increased retentionNCWIT Report: Girls & IT Research Summary – pointers to several recent studies and summaries oftheir findings with respect to technical education for young women.Cheryl Platz Interaction ’11 – Boulder, CO 54

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