Can Computer Engineer Barbie Interest More Girls in Tech Careers?

Ann All

In December I wrote about a study that concluded geeky IT stereotypes can make women feel they don't belong in the world of IT. The researchers who conducted the study aren't the only ones who think so. Former astronaut Sally Ride thinks negative geek stereotypes are discouraging American students -- and especially female ones -- from enrolling in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) courses.


A New York Times item about Sally Ride's involvement with the Obama adminstration's Race to the Top educational initiative and her own Sally Ride Science, which attempts to interest kids in science through festivals, science camps and programs involving engineering challenges with toys, offers a sobering statistic from the National Science Foundation: While women comprise 46 percent of the American workforce, they hold just 25 percent of STEM jobs.


Ride relates an anecdote from a 2007 science festival during which an enthusiastic mother (are there any other kind?) introduced Ride to her 12-year-old daughter and spoke at length about her daughter's interest in science. The unconscious message, says Ride, is that such an interest isn't normal. Says Ride:


She was saying, I don't know where she got this, she's so different from everyone else.' Girls internalize the message that scientists are geeky-looking guys with lab coats and pocket protectors who never see the light of day.


The percentage of women employed by 10 of Silicon Valley's most prominent technology companies, including HP, Intel and Cisco, fell from 37 percent in 1999 to 33 percent in 2005. The number of female managers and top executives dropped from 28 percent to 26 percent during the same time period, reports The employment rolls at those companies saw even steeper declines in African-American and Hispanic workers.


Why is this important? Said Caroline Simard, research director for the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology:


If everybody around the table is the same, the same ideas will tend to come up. If you have a diversity of race, gender, age, educational and different life experiences, people will attack a problem from different perspectives, and that will lead to innovation. In an industry that thrives on innovation, like high tech, it's especially important.


Critics fault everything from a struggling public educational system, to the tech industry's reliance on H-1B workers from India and other countries, to a lack of networking opportunities, to those ingrained geek stereotypes.


Mattel, maker of the iconic Barbie, may help address the latter issue with Computer Engineer Barbie, coming in the winter of 2010. Barbie has had 124 other professions throughout the years, all over the career spectrum from McDonald's cashier to U.S. president. This marks the first time Barbie's job was chosen by the public, with computer engineer and news anchor selected as dual winners during an online voting process.


The Society of Women Engineers helped design Computer Engineer Barbie, who will rock a pink laptop, a Bluetooth earpiece, pink-framed glasses and a T-shirt emblazoned with binary code. A Mattel press release quotes Nora Lin, president of the Society of Women Engineers:


As a computer engineer, Barbie will show girls that women can design products that have an important and positive impact on people's everyday lives.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Feb 15, 2010 6:29 AM Philosopher Philosopher  says:

Girls are too smart to go into computer engineering.  So many jobs have been outsourced/off-shored.  The remaining jobs in the US are seeing a rapid decline in salary due to a glut of new graduates, millions of guest workers, and a no growth economy.  If you notice, the unemployment rates of women with college degrees is low compared to men; they wisely pick their professions.

Feb 15, 2010 8:22 AM Jay Jay  says:

Most girls are too focused on attracting guys from an early age and they start to get too focused on their appearance. Such self consciousness is starting too early nowadays. Just take a look at the mainstream media...movies and music... the pop music the girls listen to are all about cuteness, girly stuff, guys, love, jealousy, competition, fashion...anything that is NOT education or career. While it is also a nature of girls to make themselves attractive, cute and sweet, to spend a life time knowing only that is somewhat low. Unfortunately many guys also want girls who are cute sweet and not too smart. Big brains on girls scares many guys away. I've known girls who went to the best schools and are very smart and had high paying jobs, but are unmarried because it just scares many guys away. But girls who are just cute and does sweet talk and dont use their brains are more popular and every guys wants to talk to them and hang out with them

That's the way it is....our society is too much focused on appearance and 'being' cool'. Using your brains too much is not cool. It's just geeky and nerdy. Every young girl wants to be popular and wants acceptance. If wearing glasses and reading books and writing computer programs makes you look laughable (It is so, in movies and music videos) she's gonna dump all of that and go for cute pink shorts from Victoria's Secret and that cute little top from Juicy Couture...and ya guys would love that pinky, juicy, cutie little girl who doesnt understand anything and asks them everything as opposed to a nerdy, geeky girl that just too brainy.

Feb 15, 2010 11:07 AM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says:

"Bangalore Barbie" has a much better chance than "Silicon-Valley Barbie".  Sorry ladies, but your jobs are going to India. 

That is unless you demand something from your politicians and hold them accountable.  You are the largest voting block in this country so you've got the power should you choose to use it.

Feb 15, 2010 11:55 AM Mary Lynn MS/CS Mary Lynn MS/CS  says: in response to R. Lawson

RLawson - You rock!

Feb 16, 2010 1:44 AM Jay Jay  says: in response to R. Lawson

What an irresponsible wasteful silly response from you...!!! It is so easy to  blame things on others and people like you who blame it on others are hardly of any use to society in recognizing the problems within and doing something to fix it. "Ya, they did it" is a loser's response. If you lose it's because of you, because you didn't outperform your competitor. "Sorry ladies your jobs are going to India"..."The sun rose in the East today do you know that?" Did you log in to say that? Dont come back and say they didnt 'outperform' but 'underbid', but that is a way to enter into new markets. Japanese cars used to be much cheaper and low end when they newly entered the market. The heavy construction equipment that came from Europe initially was priced well below American ones. Eventually the Japanese started making quality, expensive cars and the Europeans started bumping up their prices after decimating American manufacturers.

Read my response, that's a more serious problem plaguing our society than outsourcing. The media is creating a generation of young sheeple who just want to look cool and act, talk, walk, dress, eat like what they tell them to.

If you did not read this article wearing a H-1B/outsourcing veil you might have seen the author's point. The author did not use the word 'outsource' and used 'H-1B' once (in a very different context). That one time usage was enough for you to sniff this article out using google to come in and post something about outsourcing. The author's actual point went right over your head didnt it? Please read this article first before commenting and please read my previous post if you want to know my point.

Feb 16, 2010 2:52 AM Tim Tim  says:

My sister was asked to speak at a forum that was promoting that young women go into engineering

Her answer was 'why?'

She did NOT think it's a good choice for young women today, due to the outsourcing and H-1b issue

It's not in the soul of an engineer to wave someone ahead, when the bridge is out

You have to get a journalist, for that

Feb 16, 2010 8:26 AM Common Sense Common Sense  says: in response to Jay

What planet do you spend most of your time on?

Feb 16, 2010 8:52 AM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says: in response to Jay

@Jay said "What an irresponsible wasteful silly response from you...!!!"

No, I understand the goal of the article.  It would be irresponsible to encourage girls to pursue a career that they have no future in.  The future for boys doesn't look much brighter.

The responsible thing is to tell the truth.  Do Americans want to lead the world in IT and engineering?  If so, they had better wake up.  Over the last decade African Americans and Hispanic Americans noticed a 15-20% drop in the IT profession.  A drop!  Better make sure Engineering Barbie isn't black or hispanic because their future is even worse.

Offshoring and immigration has EVERYTHING to do with this issue.  You can make cute little barbies and provide all the encouragement you want to girls.  That is NOT going to change the inevitable outcome in a global economy which is a race to the bottom.

We live in reality.  Reality Jay!  Get a grasp on it.

Feb 16, 2010 11:34 AM Donna Conroy Donna Conroy  says:

Engineers and techies would be better served by the Society of Women Engineers if this organization would stand up for themselves and the American people.


By supporting S.887, America's Jobs Bill, ending the legal discrimination of American workers and the outsourcing of top dollar, white collar jobs.  They could also support S. 2804, Employ America Act, ending the legal practice of displacing Americans from their jobs in favor of citizens from abroad.

Children play with toys. 

Adults - including highly-skilled tech professionals - shape the circumstances of their lives by pushing legislation that gives all Americans the chance to compete for job openings in their own country.

R. Lawson gets this.

May 2, 2010 2:52 AM Casey Casey  says: in response to Jay

Typical male chauvanist reply.  It says more about the male insecurity problem that prevails in the business good ol' boys club that prevents females from being given the opportunities they deserve. Very sad.


Post a comment





(Maximum characters: 1200). You have 1200 characters left.



Subscribe to our Newsletters

Sign up now and get the best business technology insights direct to your inbox.