Keeping Girls Engaged in STEM Fields (until they retire as old women)

I was honoured to be invited to Makerfaire Vancouver this past month to talk a bit about Mozilla, Mozilla Webmaker ‘Clubs’ and to encourage a grassroots approach to teaching and mentoring girls in STEM.  As it tends to go, I learned far more from others on the panel than I was capable of sharing I also left feeling a greater sense of purpose for my role in encouraging diversity in technology.

And that purpose came after listening to another panel speaker shared his studies showing that – when girls are asked to identify their gender on exams, they almost always had lower results than if they had taken a test without gender identification.  And this resonated with me, not on reflection of my girlhood in science, but in my years working in technology and transition to motherhood.

Although important, it feels like the the bulk of advocacy begins with girls and ends with young women.  I want to argue that success for ‘girls in STEM’ can only truly be celebrated when that success flows through the various identities and transitions in a woman’s life.

Motherhood is like that gender question on exams in that it often changes our confidence that we might be capable – or that people in positions of influence  believe we are.  Not because motherhood changes our abilities (heck no!) but because there’s a sense we need to apologize for having a competing priority especially when dominate tech culture reflects 18 hour days, beer-nights and ping-pong tables. Without proper mentorship, support and advocacy I’ve witnessed that tech loses a lot of women during this time.

So, I don’t have the answers (sorry of you scrolled down for wisdom) but what occurred to me is that somehow I have managed to say in tech, despite a number of transitions in my life – including a year-long period of critical illness for one of my children.  I’ll be doing a lot more thinking about how to connect local efforts around youth with women who can also benefit. For me that also means thinking about open source participation as a way to find mentors, and to stay connected and relevant during life transitions.


* I have been ‘shouted down’ on this topic before, by men saying I was ignoring the challenges fatherhood played in their careers.  To that I say – go solve that too.

* We were also asked about STEAM (arts education). To that I say, if you have strengths in art, go teach that.  No one person can solve all things – take that thing you are good at, and bring it to your community :)

* Learning to Solder was the highlight of Makerfaire for my daughters.