The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article, Industry by Industry: How to Move Forward, that detailed key actions that could be taken to aid women in various industries. Naturally, the recommendations regarding science and technology caught my eye. In fact, one recommendation in particular.
Brand the Bling: Build a vision for females, using branding and glamour to attract them to the field. Build up role models, make them more prominent. Clone Marissa Mayer. Tech-industry groups should run an ad campaign that highlights women tech executives. The group could also produce a movie that glamorizes women in technology. Get Harvey Weinstein involved.
This is the top recommendation the task force came up with. It doesn’t sit well with me at all (for reasons entirely unrelated to the fact that the authors couldn’t stick to a single spelling of ‘glamour’) .
First of all, it should emphatically be noted that glamourizing careers in the sciences is distinctly different from accurately representing how rewarding, challenging, and fun they can be. Any time something is glamourized it is, by definition, not accurately represented. And women are all too familiar with glamourization – just check out the mainstream media.
We all know that glamourized products rarely live up to the hype. If at all possible, a similar let down should be avoided with respect to the sciences. Why doll them up? Nobody wants to find out that their chosen career isn’t what they expected (anyone who entered computer science as a result of its portrayal in The Social Network is in for this very surprise).
Why not accurately represent science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers to young women so they can make a decision based on the reality of the work? This allows them to answer important questions: Are they interested in the subject matter? Do these careers entail a lifestyle they would enjoy? Are there women who could offer guidance through mentorship?
Helping young women make educated decisions is of the utmost importance in attracting individuals who will continue to be enthusiastic about their chosen fields even after any imposed glamour is peeled away. The reality is that very few women entering computer science will become VP’s at Google. So, while Marissa Mayer is a well-educated, successful, and interesting woman, using her as a role model for young women interested in the sciences may amount to propping her up as yet another unattainable ideal in a world that’s already full of them.
To be very clear, undertaking scientific pursuits will not guarantee that you will be pretty or thin. It will not lead to your wedding being covered by Vogue. And it likely will not translate into obtaining a rare and lucrative job with a startup turned multinational public corporation. To see an example of what it might actually lead to (as well as an example of the type of information we can provide young women in order to spark their interest in science), check out this short video about some inspiring young ladies pursuing STEM at MCU.