Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Don't Underestimate the Importance of Role Models

I recently came across a timely article called "Young Girls Not Interested in IT Careers Due to Lack of Female Role Models, RIM Study Finds." Apparently, only 28% of girls in Britain are expressing any possible interest in technology careers, compared to 53% of the boys. But this isn't all that surprising. What I found interesting were the reasons cited for this difference.

The article's survey was conducted by Research In Motion and found that there just aren't enough smart female role models amongst the Britney Spears and Paris Hiltons of the world. From the article:
"Never underestimate the power of role models. If young women can see a career path which has been enjoyable and rewarding for another, they are more likely to follow it themselves," said Maggie Philbin, former host of popular British science and technology TV show, Tomorrow's World.
Funny. This is one of the major points brought up last week during my mini-course for girls about computer science and games. We had been discussing why girls don't get into the field, and they figured it was like a vicious circle. There aren't many girls in the field, so the younger students don't think of it as something they'd want to get into, so the numbers never grow.

But this isn't the only finding that matched up with my students' suggestions. Other reasons given for not wanting to pursue a technology career included the belief that it would not be exciting, the jobs are seen as too geeky, they don't realize the pay is good, and there isn't enough help in school for exploring opportunities. Again, all things that my class suggested.

So it's our job, as some of the "few" female computer scientists, to try and turn around these perceptions, and more importantly, to be the role models younger girls are looking for. How are you (or your classmates and coworkers) doing your part? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!


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