Why We’re Still Talking About Gender in STEM on Ada’s 200th Birthday

Computers & Mobile Education Science Technology
Why We’re Still Talking About Gender in STEM on Ada’s 200th Birthday

Today, December 10th, would have been Ada Lovelace’s 200th birthday. Lovelace was a groundbreaking mathematician, and is considered to be the first computer programmer for her work on the analytical engine. She has become an iconic figure and an inspiration to women pursuing science, math, and engineering everywhere. But while we’ve come a long way since Lovelace published her work 172 years ago, the way women are treated in tech is still Victorian. Condescension, pigeonholing, and poorly played hashtag campaigns reign fiercely in the field. Lovelace herself could probably relate.

So, what better way to celebrate your birthday, Lady Ada, than to identify where we’ve arrived in the 21st century, look at how women in STEM are treated, and fathom where we should go from here.

Watercolor portrait of Ada King, Countess of Lovelace by Alfred Edward Chalon
Watercolor portrait of Ada King, Countess of Lovelace by Alfred Edward Chalon

Who Was Ada?

When she was about 17 years old, Lovelace met mathematician Charles Babbage, who soon became her friend and mentor. She had the opportunity to study Babbage’s difference engine, a type of mechanical calculator, as well as his plans for a second and more sophisticated machine called the analytical engine that would later become the progenitor of modern day computing.

When Lovelace was tasked with translating an article on Babbage’s analytical engine, she also appended her own propositions on a variety of possibilities, such as how new codes could be created for the machine to work with letters and symbols, and on how to implement a repeated series of instructions, now known as looping. Her work, “A Sketch of the Analytical Engine,” was published in an English science journal in 1843. Although it received little recognition over the course of her short life (she died at the age of 36, allegedly from uterine cancer), Alan Turing revisited her notes decades later in the 1940s when he developed the first modern computers.

The analytical engine, illustrated by Sydney Padua
The analytical engine, illustrated by Sydney Padua

The Comments Section of the Victorian Era

As a woman of high society and the daughter of famous poet Lord Byron, Lovelace was provided with the educational and social resources that made her contributions possible. This was incredibly rare for a Victorian woman, as the era is notorious for solidifying gender roles and relegating women to the domestic sphere.

However, her status and accomplishments didn’t afford her genuine praise. Critics and fans alike couldn’t help but base their comments around gender. Mathematician Augustus de Morgan could only explain Lovelace’s success by comparing her capabilities to a man’s strength, because when it comes to mathematics, “the very great tension of mind which they require is beyond the strength of a woman’s physical power of application.”

Even those who praised Lovelace did so on the basis of her gender, instead of her actual work. Her mentor Babbage attributed her success solely to the nature of her gender when he wrote in a letter that she was an “Enchantress who has thrown her magical spell around the most abstract of Sciences and has grasped it with a force which few masculine intellects could have exerted over it.”

State of the STEM

Today, the industry is a completely different and constantly evolving landscape. In the 200 years since Lovelace’s birth, we’ve thankfully overturned many Victorian ideals that kept women from exploring their potential outside the home. So how exactly are women faring in the STEM world of the 21st century?

Well, we know that there are more women in the workforce than ever before. Just since 1970, women’s labor has expanded the American economy by $2 trillion dollars. Colleges across the nation are also seeing the scales tip: more Bachelor’s degrees are conferred to women than men. But the gender breakdown of computer science and engineering majors hasn’t caught up. Women account for only about a fifth of computer science and engineering majors.

And the same trend appears in the labor force. Female representation in STEM occupations has climbed steadily over the past few decades, reaching 50% or more for certain fields. However the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that when it comes to computer and mathematical occupations specifically, women still only account for a mere 25%.


So, What’s the Problem, Exactly?

I know what some of you may be thinking at this point. That men and women are inherently different, so of course it makes sense that they would choose different career paths. In that case, what’s the problem?

At least one study agrees with you. Cambridge University published evidence that biological differences are present from birth and dictate the preferences you hold for the rest of your life. Yes, this includes whether or not you are inclined to pursue a career in STEM. And in light of this, some people are wondering if the gender gap may be overblown. However, those standing behind the opposing podium still argue that how we are socialized from a young age plays a huge role that we just shouldn’t ignore.

It’s Not Just the Thought That Counts

Regardless of where you stand in the nature vs. nurture debate, STEM’s gender disparity has drawn a spotlight that’s catalyzed countless programs and campaigns. In 2013 the federal government released a 5-year plan for STEM education, a primary goal of which is to “broaden participation of women and girls.” Additionally, the White House has announced partnerships with NASA and the Girl Scouts of America to initiate mentorship programs for girls. The National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE program also hopes to “increase the representation and advancement of women” in STEM.

[youtube https://youtu.be/-XJPjPv2Mew]

But governing bodies and national foundations aren’t the only players — businesses like Google and IBM have initiated their own strategies in an effort to get more girls interested in STEM.

It’s great to see that this issue has commanded national attention and sparked so many proactive initiatives, but not all of these have been well conceived, or well received by, you know, actual women. IBM just came under major fire from the Twitterverse for their #HackAHairDryer campaign. While it seems to come from a genuinely well-intentioned place, the hashtag campaign misses the mark completely for its insinuation that women might only care to interact with the world around them as it relates to their beauty regimen. In short, it’s patronizing. IBM’s cringe-worthy marketing mistake echoes that of EDF Energy’s #PrettyCurious campaign just a few months ago.

As Emily Schoerning aptly said in light of EDF Energy’s pretty condescending #PrettyCurious campaign, “I hate this presumption that STEM stuff needs to be girlified to appeal to female people.” And she points out that this is just one of the latest examples in a long tradition dating back to the polite botanists of the 1800’sShe concludes that these seemingly “female-friendly” campaigns “do more to stereotype girls, to put them in a place, than to unleash their minds and let them on the field.”

This top-down condescension has prompted women such as the engineer Isis Anchalee to retaliate with their own grassroots hashtag campaigns. Anchalee created #ILookLikeAnEngineer in August as a response to commenters who told her she was too pretty to be an engineer. Similarly, many female scientists are tweeting pictures of themselves in the workplace with the tag #distractinglysexy, a flippant response to scientist Tim Hunt’s sexist comments.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

All of these campaigns, successful or not, have pinpointed the contention between femininity and STEM.

It’s a sexist and lazy strategy to try and bring women into STEM solely by appealing to their femininity. Sure, #HackAHairDryer was totally insulting. But some critics would have you believing that women should be proving their dedication by renouncing their beauty products, insinuating that perhaps femininity has no place in STEM at all. However, there really are women who are able to live comfortably in their feminine skin while occupying a space in the boys’ club.

The women who post their pictures to #ILookLikeAnEngineer represent women of all walks of life, from the smallest grade schoolers to women wearing burqas and yes, women wearing lipstick and sporting long feminine hair. Women in STEM shouldn’t be patronized with suggestions to hack their hairdryers, but we also shouldn’t feel obligated to adapt to a masculine or unfeminine ideal in order to be successful in a male-dominated industry. “Women are equals to men, but we’re not the exact same,” says Nomiku CEO Lisa Fetterman.

Schoerning and I agree that STEM stuff doesn’t need to be girlified. But does that mean it’s always bad to do so? What happens when the girlification of STEM is actually being generated by real women? CEO of blink blink Nicole Messier designed her company’s creative circuit kits with and for real teenage girls. And while the product certainly gives off girly vibes, there’s a completely different context here compared to IBM’s campaign. Messier says that “it’s about meeting girls where they’re at — finding activities and subjects they’re interested at particular ages and embedding tech within those activities.” IBM may have thought this is what they were doing, but there’s a clear difference here — bringing your identity to the topic at hand and creating something that genuinely represents you is not the same as attempting to engage a community by telling them they should play out a tired stereotype.

Teenage girls who contributed to a blink blink workshop.
Teenage girls who contributed to a blink blink workshop.

So how can we start to minimize harmful efforts and instead focus on meaningful strategies to get girls into STEM? Messier remembers her time as an engineering student, when the newly founded engineering sorority Alpha Omega Epsilon offered her a supportive community. Messier was on the brink of transferring out of her engineering program, but “the community of women made all the difference.” Hand in hand with community is communication. “The only way to solve this is from an open conversation [to] bringing this problem to light,” says Fetterman. Women supporting women can only bring good things.

Next, we must recognize how 21st century sexism operates. “[Sexism] doesn’t happen on an ‘on purpose’ level,” observes Messier. “Nobody wants to be sexist,” adds Fetterman. “It’s really hard to nail down exactly how sexism works, because it’s so ingrained in our society.” Very few people are purposefully sexist in this day and age and in this particular industry (perhaps with the exception of Tim Hunt). Rather, we must acknowledge and combat the insidious effects of implicit bias, which has been documented by the White House Office of Science and Technology. Even people like Sequoia Capital Chairman Michael Moritz, who genuinely believes that he runs a “gender-blind” VC firm, said that he’s happy to hire women, but that “what we’re not prepared to do is to lower our standards.” While Moritz is clearly well-intentioned, his comment insinuates that men automatically meet a higher standard than women do.

While these phenomena are problematic and tricky to navigate, the solutions are pretty straightforward. Allow women’s voices, identities, and opinions to exist in a space where they’re often outnumbered 5 to 1. For men, the first step is to just acknowledge that you are — we all are — affected by implicit bias, and realizing that simply having good intentions is not enough to turn the tide.

Ada Lovelace contributed one of the most groundbreaking mathematical works to the modern age. She did so by bringing her genuine self to the task at hand — and she didn’t need an insulting campaign urging her to hack her bodice in order to do so. And 200 years later, women still find this unnecessary. So Ada, thanks for paving the way. Regardless of our personal choices about how feminine we choose to be as women, we have been, are, and will continue to be successful in every corner of STEM.

40 thoughts on “Why We’re Still Talking About Gender in STEM on Ada’s 200th Birthday

  1. Nicole Morgan says:

    Actually a pretty good article on a subject that is normally rife with bias social politics.

    I think one thing that is over looked is the damage self proclaimed feminist activists sometimes do. I’ve seen a side of feminism that tells girls not to feel safe in STEM classes, which ultimately is a negative message rather than a positive one. I’ve also seen people call for pro-female affirmative action, which places emphasis on the sex of the employee rather than the quality of their work as a standard for their hire. I think this leads to cases where people feel the need to say they will not lower the bar for women, because ultimately, that is the message some feminists send, that they think women need special treatment to go into STEM, and that because it is male dominated, that men must be aggressors or oppressors, as though women are weaker by nature.

    I think your article really avoids these pit falls and promotes a rational view of the issue of sex and gender in STEM fields, and the real struggles and the natural bias we all have in modern society. Good job on that.

    1. Karen Garvin says:

      I detest affirmative action schemes. Though the proponents say they mean well, it promotes people based on what they look like and that’s wrong. I think we can be supportive of all interested students without pushing for unrealistic statistical equality.

      1. Steve Navazio says:

        I agree Affirmative action is just like a commissioned sales person, It’s known not the best way to compensate but we still do it.

  2. Arkansas Toothpick says:

    The article is good, but quite frankly, I read Make magazine to learn how to build things, not to learn the latest thoughts on gender politics. Please keep this venue pure; otherwise, you will eventually dilute the product and turn it into something altogether different than what Make should be about.

    1. Kim says:

      As a huge fan and someone thrilled with this article I see your point. My only thought to you would be that the stories behind the people who make these products is interesting and the lack of women and the role gender politics play is part of the backstory. Be patient Arkansas Toothpick – female driven products will only make this magazine more interesting and readers like you can help make this happen.

      1. Joey-BagaDonuts says:

        Nope, sorry. Has no place on Make. This kind of gender bullshit is ridiculous. Go back to the SJW – women’s studies courses.

        1. Steve Navazio says:

          Your comment make the case FOR having more of these discussions. But I’m sure you knew that. :)

          1. Joey-BagaDonuts says:

            Actually, it doesn’t. I know you think you learned the ultimate technique for turnabout on reddit comments, but no. You actually have to have content.

          2. Steve Navazio says:

            Yea, it does. When you act out of emotion and let it get the better of you, you loose power and respect. If you watch shark tank you know what I’m talking about. Also, Reddit isn’t my thing.

          3. Joey-BagaDonuts says:

            Oh yes, I wouldn’t want to “loose” power…and watch “Shark Tank”. Very inspiring advice. Thanks, but not so much.

            When you get out of school and see what the real world is like, let me know.

    2. Steve Navazio says:

      Hey AT,
      This article is Make-ing the site pure. Helping more people create and invent. You and I may not like the fact that most cultures discriminate, when trying to change the conversation it is important to do that in every place possible.

      No dilution, just more people creating that is what MAKES this place so interesting.

  3. B Stott says:

    The article is on an issue that we should begin to stop addressing. Women/Girls are not Men/Boys. They really do not have the interests, proclivity and desire to do what the male wants to do. The female really does have a different want and interest and goals. We need to stop all the Misandrist activity masked as Misogyny regarding make those others around us into what they are not. We need to bolster what the other group, who ever they maybe, has interests in and to realize that together we make the whole. Not to make the whole all do all things.

    Women/Girls are not Blocked from STEM. They have no interest. I know because I’ve grown up with and around males and females. I’ve fathered and raised male and female. I’ve been related to male and female. We need to ignore the Feminist, Misandrist, Lesbian female and embrace the Real Woman/Girl/Female for what they have interests in and desires to do. Putting PINK on everything is not making it appealing to the Female to Program, Engineering, Mathematics, Hard Sciences, Medicine, Architecture, Construction, Shipping, Autos, Aircraft, Utilities, Etc… Stop working to make Women into substitute Men!


    1. Karen Garvin says:

      Brian, I think what you’re trying to say is that if a woman/girl is not interested in STEM she shouldn’t be pushed into it just to make the statistics come out right. I agree with that. It would be like making men take up knitting just so a knitter’s club could claim a 50/50 male-female ratio.

      However, there ARE women/girls who are interested in STEM and they should be encouraged to pursue what they enjoy. For what it’s worth, I took vocational electronics in high school back in the 1970s. The only person who told me I should not take that class was my grandmother. The male instructor and my classmates were all supportive.

      1. RNotR2 says:

        Problem solved!

      2. B Stott says:

        Yes – Karen. Do it if you wish. Don’t do it if it is of no interest. Focus on your interests and do well. Learn and keep learning and doing. ;-)

        1. Karen Garvin says:


  4. Cyber_Donkey says:

    If this sort of thing is going to become common place on Make Magazine, I not remain.

  5. Brian Lloyd says:

    Interesting. I taught STEM at a private preK-8 Montessori school. Yes, I did encounter a gender bias but it seemed to come from the home more than from the classroom. For instance, when it came time to build our Science Center, it was the girls who volunteered to do finish work and wire the power and Ethernet wiring to the workbenches. But those girls came from homes where mothers were professional engineers and doctors.

    Still, it was a lot of fun to watch the girls stringing wire, punching down cat-6 wire on biscuit-blocks and patch panels, doing the connectivity testing, and then asking for a class in network configuration so they could configure the workstations.

    That I was surprised by who chose to do the work probably indicates my own bias. OTOH I made a point to talk about how scientific method applies to all activities and to seek the science in their passion, whether it be art, engineering, cooking, sports, or pure research. Making and Engineering encompasses everything and transcends race, gender, religion, or politics. The Laws of Physics don’t care who you are.

    1. jnharton says:

      Your initial statement suggests, loosely, the possibility of genetic involvement and, potentially, parental pressure. Also, it being a Montessori school may have implications, since someone’s parents would have to choose to send them there. So, there may be a selective pressure sending people there that aren’t like their peers who are going to public schools. In other words they are probably not the best sample for deciding whether girls are generally interested/disinterested in something.

  6. Sunbreaks says:

    Thanks so much, Sophia, for writing this article. And thank you, Make for publishing her words. The idea that STEM jobs need women because they are a valuable resource shouldn’t be controversial anymore, and it certainly isn’t a fringe idea by any means. But so many people get their news and ideas from biased sources, to the point they don’t realize that their views are actually the radicalized ones, the ones that are truly against the mainstream. They need to see more articles like this, from media sources they enjoy, to know their views aren’t supported by most people.

  7. Joey-BagaDonuts says:

    Can I never read this on Make again? I’ll cut all ties if this is going to be commonplace around here.

    This pretend gender-inequality stuff in STEM is ridiculous. Stop trying to push women where they don’t want to go.

    1. Steve Navazio says:

      So, you are saying that there are equal amount of women and men in stem?

      Do you want us to stop pushing women into higher paying jobs? Is that your point?

      1. Joey-BagaDonuts says:

        Re-read my comment.

        And so, we’re pushing (your word) women into something they are not choosing themselves. So, we’re effectively forcing them to do something against their will….because a group says they should. Remind me how that’s different from forcing them into motherhood and being a housekeeper?

        And, by the way, while you’re forcing these women into jobs you want them to be in, who are you forcing out?

        Why aren’t you worried about men in teaching, or men in nursing while you are trying to put everything to 50/50, savior?

        1. Steve Navazio says:

          I re-read your comment and my questions still stand (un-answered).

          Jobs are going unfilled.

          Respectfully, it appears you are confusing having “an equal opportunity” with a personal decision.

          For you I’m wanting your mother,your sister(s) and your daughter(s) to have the same opportunity as you and I do.

          I can see my wife (as a Superior Court Judge) from the old boy network doesn’t have the same advantages as her male counter parts, my daughter (as a 4.0 student) from Sports, Boy Scouts (Please, Don’t get me started about the Girl Scout Company), ETC. doesn’t either, so I see how this a problem.

          Honestly answer me this, What is it you want? for me?

          1. Joey-BagaDonuts says:

            Thank you, but my Mother and sister both have the same opportunities I do, even though you know zero about me or my female relations. In fact, my sister works in STEM. And no special programs or encouragement was required.

            People can make their own choices. How is this ANY different from shaming women from raising kids? Zero.

            “Old Boy Network”? Oh, you are dreaming….this is fantasy-land.

            Do all of the male janitors and Best Buy employees have the same chances for advancement? Hey, they’re men…they must be so entitled. Nevermind all of the gov’t support and assistance they get. Oh, that’s women.

            Steve, you are a whiny narcissist who wants to be involved in every piece of drama. I have zero use for you. You’re forgettable and, seemingly, useless.

  8. Karen Garvin says:

    My husband and I went to Maker Faire in New York in 2012 and 2013. The first year it was a blast, and people actually talked to me as though they expected me to understand the tech. Great!

    The second year it was all about kids.This attitude is from the same people who complain there aren’t enough women in STEM. Well, when you see us as nothing more than walking reproductive organs, it’s a huge turn-off. Walk the walk, folks.

    1. Steve Navazio says:

      Good Point, As a presenter at the NYC World’s Maker Faire, I can agree. I will make sure I don’t do that.

  9. Jethro Bodine says:

    I’m still unsure why we’re so obsessed with balancing this, so-called, inequity. I have been a software engineer for close to 30 years. During that time, I have worked on projects with female engineers, as well as many without women. I don’t recall any instances where the engineers gender had a significant, if any, role in the outcome of the project.
    Currently, the department I work in has, roughly, an equal number of male/female engineers. However, the majority of the team is originally from India (I am not). Interestingly, this topic never really comes up. Women who want to work in tech do so and those who don’t, do not. To be fair, I don’t know what the exact ratio of men/women engineers is for Indians. I have no doubt, there are still far more males. Considering their population is about 5 times that of the U.S., it may only appear that there are more female Indian engineers, when compared with the rest of the world.
    If the goal of increasing the presence of females in STEM fields were simply about adding more individuals to the field, I might understand this panacea but this doesn’t appear to be the case. Motivation appears to be political in nature and so we’ve started down a path of, potentially, trying to shove round pegs in square holes. Unless we start looking at this more objectively, whatever outcome is expected will probably not be the end result.

  10. Johnathon Tieman says:

    While better than some other articles I’ve read on this topic, it still has some serious issues (for example, it has already been shown that the articles about Tim Hunt’s “sexism” was fabricated entirely by some rather vile people pushing an agenda). This also has nothing to do with “maker” culture – the article seems more focused on business gender balance rather than, you know, actually making something. There are plenty of appropriate places to talk about this – but Make isn’t really one of them. Make, in the future, please focus on your actual product, or I will take my business elsewhere (as will others, apparently).

  11. Steve Navazio says:

    Sophia thanks for a great article.

    In 1999 Network World reported in the article “The critical shortage of women in it” that Silicone Valley (alone) is loosing between

    $3 to $4 billion a year because tech jobs aren’t being filled and that the gender gap could fill many other those jobs.

    In Arpil 2015, Huffington Post reported that every tech field but Computers and Math the percentage of women has grown. Computers and math has seen a serious decline.

    If the people who say the gender gap “isn’t a problem” are good with less and less money, then OK lets keep doing what we’ve been doing.

    This has a huge cost of opportunity.

    Respectfully, The conversation shouldn’t be do or don’t females want to participate or can we get more females to participate if we attract them (I.E. make pink computers). Let’s figure out why females aren’t participating equally and try to move from there.

    One field of study worth at least thinking about is gender bias in competition. Economist Uri Gneezy, has found that women don’t like to compete as much as men(no surprises there) in our culture. He has also found that this gender bias stays with the dominate sex (percentage wise) when females dominate in the culture (there are few in the world). It’s clear that females don’t play sports as much as men in our culture, so maybe the “method” we use to compete in computers and math may have an undesirable result that we all don’t want.

    A huge trend is in collaboration, I’m wondering could replace competition? My thought is to focus on collaborative skills (everybody contributes), rather than who is more competitive (hence having winners and losers).

    Does that work? Guys, don’t you want your mothers, daughters and sisters being treated with the utmost respect everywhere?

    Women, does that give you the respect you deserve?

    1. Joey-BagaDonuts says:

      “Steve” – you’re logic is the worst kind of pulpy-trill, your writing is lazy and hard to follow, and your points are meaningless. You obviously just insert yourself into conversations and whine.

  12. Chad Martinell says:

    The article is on a topic that impacts the maker culture. Therefore it belongs on Make. For those that say the article doesn’t belong on Make… do you read every single article? Surely there are topics that you don’t care about, and therefore don’t read? Just treat this like one of those. Did you read this article, or did you just see the topic and decide to post negatively? Why bother? You are wasting your time and the time of those who are interested in the article and discussing the article. If you don’t agree with the article, then feel free to comment on it to discuss your disagreement.

    For example, I feel that the example of Michael Moritz and his statement that “what we are not prepared to do is lower our standards” is probably more an example of what wasn’t said than what was said. With that statement it could be easily assumed that he meant that women weren’t as capable as men for the position, but in all likelihood, what he really meant was simply that if he had the option to hire a male that was perfectly qualified, and a female that was under-qualified, then he would choose to hire the male. It is far too easy in our society for the audience to read into or assign connotation to what they are hearing/reading.

    I enjoyed the article. I feel that STEM programs should really be gender neutral myself, as both boys and girls should feel like they can pursue careers in those fields. I also understand that from an early age many girls are taught by parents, friends, etc… the these things are undesirable, and therefore more of a push should be made to let girls know that they have every opportunity to get into these fields. It is a fine line that we draw where on one side we are giving people opportunity and on the other we are pushing them to be something they are not. My philosophy is that if they at least give it a shot, maybe they will like it, maybe they won’t. But if someone never tries it, then they will never know.

  13. Anthropostasia says:

    Sophia, thanks for a reasonable article. The need to seed pathways into STEM careers, to advance the best & brightest is of paramount importance in furthering our scientific and commercial endeavours. The contributing dynamics at play in our society, education system and business world are complex and challenging.

    Our culture is replete with positive signals to women and girls about STEM careers; business, professional, educational and political initiatives (and budgets in the many tens of millions spent annually), role models in television & movies, advertising, internet ‘tribes’, Make magazine – the bulk of these have been in swing for 15 years or more.

    In the US, 40% of all 2015 Bachelor degrees in STEM were awarded to women. 62% and 58% of degrees in the Social Sciences & Biological Sciences went to women. In Mathematics 42%. In 2014, the US Computing workforce was 36% female, the Engineering workforce 24% female. Since 2001, the US STEM workforce has aged because young STEM workers, of every creed/race/gender are in decline. In Engineering that decline has been a hefty 25% in workers under 25 years of age, in Computer Science, 15%. This is the problem: young people’s declining interest in STEM, of which women are a part.

    Our education system is the pipeline to STEM careers and is a counter example to the one you’ve sketched and one that may very well contain part of the answer: 94% of pre-primary, 87% of Elementary / Middle, 62% of Secondary, 63% of post Secondary (non-tertiary) and 49% of Tertiary education teachers are women. These figures are for the US and they’re similar throughout the western world. These are shocking, devastating figures for our society. They represent great chunks of our school system where students have no male teacher at all. There is no general outcry, no broad initiatives, no political recognition, no cultural recognition that this is even a problem let alone driving towards a solution – 94%! How is it possible for this vast imbalance to have a balanced outcome for our children. Are all these women, the educators of our girls, the shapers of their minds for the last 20 years, are they responsible for the ills that you outline? Do you have no shock or outrage that the skills, experience, energy and creativity of the men in our society (including the Makers around you) is not available to our education system? The most astounding thing of all: in a system that is fully 80% women teachers (Secondary school and below) there are still multiple national, state, local, professional initiatives to promote women in teaching and virtually nothing for men. How is 80% supremacy for women anything at all to do with gender equality? It isn’t – it’s active gender supremacy.

    I believe that your “pretty straight forward” solution of “allow(ing) women’s voices, identities and opinions to exist” and for men to acknowledge that they’re biased is an all too familiar and shallow motif: women are victims who aren’t being allowed and men are the problem. Are men also the problem in Education?

  14. tm17 says:

    As the father of two girls (age 10 & 13) I applaud this article. We belong to a hacker space, they have lots of science, engineering & building type toys, and I give them lots of opportunities to learn. But I see that they do in fact work a bit differently than I am accustomed. Studies show that this is about the time most girls will drop their interest in STEM fields because they don’t get the support they crave.

    My daughters don’t have much interest in “girlified” STEM toys/products. But, they very much desire the company of other girls and female mentors. If we are going to encourage more girls to pursue STEM interests, these are topics worth discussing.

  15. jnharton says:

    This article doesn’t really seem to answer the question it poses and feels very much like a rambling stream of consciousness. Honestly, as interesting as Ada Lovelace is, I don’t really think she adds much to a conversation beyond a data point that proves that some women have an intuitive grasp of certain things and an interest in those things that run contrary to their peers. However important the privilege she had was, it doesn’t change the fact there were surely other women with those sort of circumstances who had no interest or desire to consider/be involved with such things.

    Tangentially, if we are /all/ affected by implicit bias, then it is important for people on both sides of the line to admit that and not act as though as one side needs to do more adjustment than the other.

    It also seems quite possible that you could have hiring standards which happen to favor men without it being intrinsically unreasonable. You might simply have a hard time finding women who meet those standards. Especially considering the other claims out there. Maybe they’re not reasonable standards (too high, too narrow, but that has little to do, intrinsically, with a gender divide.

  16. Tracey Buschlen says:

    Thanks for the article, I appreciate knowing that I am not the only engineering professional that is female and experiencing similar issues. Yes, the article mentions problems that do exist.

    This is my experience so far:
    – Being very successful in my course, but told not to dress in a feminine way
    – Being asked in a job interview what kind of engineer I am, because I don’t look like the engineers the interviewer had known previously
    -it is not socially acceptable to go to a job interview in my “disguise” of t-shirt, jeans, work boots and hat, hence I look like a girl. I was told I would be too much of a distraction to the male technical staff.
    -Getting looks and sounds of disapproval for discussing non engineering topics with the other female engineering students during my break time, for instance, concerning my life as a single mother of three. I do not get this reaction if I am discussing my latest electronic project.
    -hours of operation in the tech field may not be conducive to raising small children alone
    -I really can lift the 100 lb ladder, I am 6.2′
    -although I am capable of other jobs, I really enjoy electronics engineering, and I don’t want to give up on my passion


    1. Steve Greenfield says:

      As someone with Asperger’s, I face not entirely dissimilar issues, although obviously not exactly the same. There seems to be a difficulty in processing how to work with someone who is different from the boss and people already there.

      I just want to learn and do the job.

      1. Tracey Buschlen says:

        I agree, we are all there to get the job done.

  17. yetanothermike says:

    Considering that boys are more likely to drop out of school, less likely to get into college ( hand raised) and less likely to finish, your notions about welcoming girls & women into STEM/STEAM are tin eared at best. At one point, you ask both sides to drop your biases. I think the phrase goes, ‘Doctor, heal thyself.’

    1. sophiacamille says:

      to quote the article… “more Bachelor’s degrees are conferred to women than men. But the gender breakdown of computer science and engineering majors hasn’t caught up. Women account for only about a fifth of computer science and engineering majors.” Sources are linked above.

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Sophia is the managing editor of the Make: blog. When she’s not greasing editorial gears, she likes to run, ride, climb, and lift things, and make lo-tech goods like zines, desserts, and altered clothing. @sophiuhcamille

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