From Tech-Fueled Dresses to Role Models, Girls Pitched on Science

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In an effort to improve gender parity in science fields, girls have been the target of STEM education drives and encouraged into the field with a range of tech products such as flashing light dresses, enhanced doll-houses and interactive events run by the likes of Cisco and Techbridge.

The appeal to girls is meant to reduce the dramatic difference in participation between men and women in STEM-related fields. As reported in the Sun Sentinal, statistics show an imbalance of men and women, with a 2012 National Science Board study demonstrating that only 27 percent of STEM workers are women despite making up for 47 percent of the population. Women in STEM are hoping to reduce this imbalance by inspiring other women with tech products, such as Melissa Saelzer’s tech-related dress. Her dress brings a unique fashionable flair which is seldom seen in these fields:

“I’m doing this because it will help girls build confidence so when they want to go into the industry, they already have experience and know how to approach things like programming,” Saelzer said. “This will bring more girls into tech. I want to build a team out with girls who can get excited about doing this.”

Other ideas to encourage women into STEM include a next-generation dollhouse developed by Alice Brooks, a 26-year-old engineering graduate from Stanford University. She claims that it was her ability to get hands-on with building things herself that inspired her to get into STEM initially:

“… we were really inspired by what we played with when we were younger. [A way] for encouraging more girls into these fields is just to give them more possibilities as young as possible, [and] get them comfortable with building and circuits,” she said. “Those are things that traditionally have been more geared towards boys and their toys.”

This has caused controversy, however, with The Age reporting that some could interpret the development of a dollhouse meant to encourage girls as gender bias. Brooks doesn’t see it that way, though:

“We thought about it really carefully, we actually spent a lot of time going back and forth on this,” she said. “There’s a fine line of playing into what they are [already] doing versus showing them something new and we saw it as an opportunity to give some context that really made sense to a six-year-old with a dollhouse.”

3BL Media reports that Cisco and Techbridge are encouraging girls into STEM by introducing a full day course split up into two sessions. The morning session consists of a role model seminar presented by volunteers from Cisco and Techbridge about advice for careers in IT followed by an afternoon session where girls were encouraged to participate in two hands on activities – a “PB&J Robot” exercise and a Disney-themed Code.org activity.

Shari Slate, Vice President and Chief Inclusion Officer at Cisco, attended the event herself and talked with several of the girls there. She stated that Cisco’s success is largely in part to their culture and employees, and that programs such as Techbridge that focus on women in STEM have the potential to make a huge difference not only to Cisco’s people and culture, but also their customers as well. Students from the day had only positive things to say about Cisco and the way the event was handled.

Cisco’s Corporate Social Responsibility website offers more details on how Cisco is involved with encouraging women of all backgrounds to pursue an interest in STEM.