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At a software conference yesterday in Toronto, one of the speakers touched on the problem of the gender gap in software development and the sciences. There aren't very many women, relatively speaking, studying or practicing in software.

I'm convinced girls can be every bit as good as boys in sciences, engineering, etc. or anything else for that matter.

How can I encourage my daughter (currently 3 years old) that she can do anything if she puts her mind to it or be anything she wants to be? Is there a way to counteract the stereotyping and other biases she is likely to encounter as she gets more exposed to the world?

asked 24 Oct '09, 16:24

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Chris W. Rea
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edited 23 Apr '10, 18:35

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Tammy ♦♦
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What is wrong with gender differences? I don't expect my wife to be changing oil on our cars and she doesn't want me to be breast feeding our babies. However our votes count the same during election time. So all is good. There are gender differences. That doesn't mean your daughter can't do anything she puts her mind to. So let her do what she puts her mind to. I get the feeling from your question that you want your daughter to be what you put your mind to.

(24 Oct '09, 22:08) lajos

Your question reminds me the lullaby in "The man who knew too much": Should I paint pictures, should I sing songs, Here was her wise reply: Que sera sera...

(24 Oct '09, 22:24) mouviciel
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:-) I don't want my daughter necessarily to be a software developer or scientist -- In general, I don't want her to be limited by stereotypes and biases she's likely to encounter.

(25 Oct '09, 01:00) Chris W. Rea

Do stuff with her. Teach her not what she can be but what she can do. Encourage her to do many different specific things (as opposed to just saying: "try more things"). When she's confident in her own abilities, she'll internalize the lesson you yearn for. That will likely start with wide exposure. Take an active role in finding where her strengths and interests are and help guide her along an appropriate path. Being able to do anything while having no direction can result in doing nothing.

We are a counter-example. My spouse and I had very similar school experiences. We both excelled greatly, we were often told we were smart, told we had potential, told we could be whatever we wanted to be, and both were given no help or direction. American schools ignore the 'smart kids' assuming they'll find their own way and spend time bringing the bottom students up. Helping those who need it is admirable but doing so exclusively unintentionally does a disservice to those who have the ability but lack direction. We both wandered aimlessly trying to find our place and both ended up in music degrees then switched to equally frivolous majors. Much time and potential was wasted trying to find our way.

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answered 24 Oct '09, 17:38

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I always hated it when a teacher said "You're a bright girl. Figure it out." in response to a request for help. I may be bright, but I'm not an omniscient genius. Children must be taught if they are to learn.

(24 Oct '09, 17:47) mkcoehoorn

I agree with Dinah, but would like to add something. Most of the time girls are seen as less logical than boys, and therefore struggle a bit more with sciences. There are some basic exercises you can do with any child to help teach logic at a young age. My favorite is the "Peanut Butter and Jelly" exercise (and it has helped me immensely in my adult life). To do it, pick a task that your child knows how to do. Then have her give you detailed instructions on how to do it. As you do what she says, take her instructions literally. If you are making a sandwich and she doesn't tell you to close a drawer or cabinet, leave it open. If she says just to open the bag with the bread, but doesn't tell you how to open it, rip the bag open. It will give a lot of laughs, but I encountered this exercise, and variations, a couple times growing up. It only took one experience to drive the point home. When I took a Computer Science course in college, I kept in mind and had one of the highest grades in the class. When I was working full time, I was told, in front of my team, that I am good at giving instructions, and it all goes back to this exercise.

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answered 24 Oct '09, 17:53

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mkcoehoorn
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I love your PB&J exercise. I've seen something similar done with "tying your shoes" and "cutting an onion" which are also easy to do and really difficult to describe exactly.

(24 Oct '09, 18:19) Dinah

There is not much I can say after all the posts but here is the path we took with our daughter. Once she was at an age where we could communicate easily things kind of started falling into place, I can say this started during Kindergarten.

That's how it developed for us. We have had this attitude since she has been able to to talk back to us. We always encouraged her to be observant and to look at things, all sorts of things, tell her opinions, and to ask questions whenever she was curious about something.

We don't really treat her like a child, but instead more like a little person. She is currently 5 years old. For us the key words are Sharing , Communication and Listening. We share our views with her whenever we can, and take her views seriously. We always communicate our feelings, and expect her to do the same, and finally we really listen to each other.

I think this is working for us, and we very happy with her pre-school. She told us recently that should would like to be a waterperson, ( We thought she was refering to the the guys who deliver our bottled drinking water) so we said that we thought that was interesting and asked why she wanted to do that, the answer was really nice,

"well I think that water is something that is very important for the future, so I would like to work with it and make sure we have it" It made us smile.

Finally I really believe that our occupations, our home enviroment, the quality of our relationships with our spouses, are the natural factors that our children are directly exposed to and can be naturally effected by.

Perhaps if these natural factors are combined with all the other ideas we have regarding our children, then armed with a good education, I believe that our children will move forward and achieve whatever they want, unhindered and free of by any gender restrictions and stereotypes of any kind.

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answered 24 Oct '09, 22:35

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Be very involved with her schooling. In elementary school, I had a teacher who hated math. When we got to fractions he managed to confuse the entire class. It wasn't until my father sat down with me and explained fractions that I finally understood.

Also, if she starts showing an interest in a particular field, do some research on it and make sure she has opportunities to gain basic skills in that area. Even though it wasn't a prerequisite, my intro to programming teacher worked under the assumption that we'd all played around with BASIC and kept explaining everything in relation to that.

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answered 24 Oct '09, 21:32

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It seems that we're looking for methods to build a child's confidence, not just in school but in anything they do.

I grew up very confident in school and activities but not at all in sports. My parents offered lots of positive reinforcement (praise for good grades), and I ended up with higher standards for my grades than they did. My siblings and I were never given an outright "no" to a request to join an activity, but there were limits on the number of activities. As a result, I excelled in school and did well in my activities. My parents didn't push me into sports but allowed me to participate the 2 times I asked. They offered equal encouragement here, but I didn't have the skill. So, I simply focused on my strengths.

Based on my experience, I think the best you can do is present a number of options to your child and encourage them to try a few. Offer encouragement and keep trying until you start to discover his or her talents.

As to the gender issue, I guess I never felt that math and science were beyond me. I remember thinking in grade school that girls were smarter than boys because we paid more attention and, therefore, got better grades. :) In the end, I think it's better to focus on the child's strengths and interests rather than trying to beat the stereotypes. I ended up in the liberal arts instead of science because I decided I liked them better, not because I couldn't handle the logic. ;)

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answered 27 Oct '09, 03:54

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As a gentle introduction to programming, I discovered the excellent Light Bot game and introduced it to my daughters.

The seven-year-old now has the hang of it, while the five-year-old needs more help. Though not at all obsessed, they do keep playing it now and again and consider it "just another game" -- certainly not something that is "only for boys", which is good.

Hopefully it will support any programming enthusiasm they might develop in the future, should they so wish, but I'm not going to push it (too hard :-) ).

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answered 27 Oct '09, 09:26

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If you want her to be confident and happy with trying new things I would suggest lots of praise for effort and achievements in whatever field it is - even if it's ballet and flower arranging. Try not to let your prejudices, even if they are against the general trend, get in the way of being proud of her for trying her best.

I find this difficult - I have two daughters, for whom I bought lego and puzzles and cars as babies/toddlers, and now they enjoy playing dogs and princesses respectively. My two-year-old son, who is exposed to all the "girlie" stuff of his older sisters, is really enthusiastic about lego and trains and tractors. I try very hard to let them be themselves, and not to over-compensate for society's expectations, but it's difficult to know how much of their tastes are down to peer pressure as they get older. My daughters have both just passed ballet exams with flying colours and I am proud of them, but I think I would be even more proud if it had been in something a little less dominated by little girls.

If you have the opportunity to send her to an all girls' school in her teens, it may be worth considering it seriously. I went to an all girls' school from 13 - 18 (it was the only option within the state system where I lived at the time), and I feel it helped me to be more confident, especially in choosing more traditionally boys' subjects later on (maths, physics, chemistry). Instead of being one of a minority of girls in a male dominated classroom, I had small class sizes and lots of teacher time.

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answered 25 Oct '09, 08:29

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edited 25 Oct '09, 09:22

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Asked: 24 Oct '09, 16:24

Seen: 3,926 times

Last updated: 23 Apr '10, 18:35