Clinton Global Initiative: Girls, Women, and TechnologyMay 18, 2012
Yesterday was an exciting day at AAUW headquarters. I was pleased to host the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) meeting on Girls, Women, and Technology, with women leaders from companies such as Google and Yahoo, the White House Office of Science and Technology, and other nonprofit groups. It was a privilege to address these leaders who share our vision of broadening participation for women in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields — not only because women deserve the economic security of these plentiful and high-paying jobs but also because our country’s global economic standing depends on a strong STEM workforce, which needs workers regardless of their gender.
In my presentation to the group, I focused on the importance of developing girls’ spatial skills — the ability to visualize objects as they move in space — which are critical prerequisites for advanced mathematics and many STEM fields. Highly developed spatial skills are invaluable in fields such as engineering, computer science, and many medical specialties.
Show-and-tell is always a good way to teach, so I shared two toys with our guests — Lego Friends and a regular Lego set. AAUW staff purchased the toys at a local Target for about the same price, and both are targeted to children ages 6–12. But there’s a difference: One package is pink and purple, and the other is blue. When you open the box, you see another difference. The pink Lego set, obviously targeted at girls, can be built in 33 steps, most of which involve decorating a simple structure. The regular Legos, presumably designed for boys, require 87 steps to build a complex aircraft. Let me repeat these numbers: 33 steps for the girl and 87 steps for the boy. That is more than twice as many steps for boys!
We think that Lego is underestimating our girls. But, more important, the toy industry needs to understand that by failing to educate girls about spatial skills at early ages, we are potentially handicapping half of our future STEM workforce. Of course, Lego is not alone — we see gender stereotyping everywhere from the toy aisle to online gaming.
Although we haven’t solved the problem yet, this event was a starting point for future collaboration between AAUW and CGI members. Next month I will represent AAUW at the CGI-USA meeting, where I have been invited to participate in the working group on STEM education. AAUW looks forward to the challenge!