For Girls, Why Engineering?
I talk a lot about the importance of closing the gender gap in STEM. The statistics clearly outline the problem: only 14% of engineers are women. Girls are losing confidence in math and science by age eight. Something needs to change.Engineers enjoy more job security, solid pay, and are in higher demand than any other profession in the US right now. Engineers are also responsible for building the world around us: from the tech that we rely on, to the bridges that take us where we need to go, to the buildings that shelter us. Because most of these things are being built by men, we literally live in a man’s world. Anyone can see that this is a problem; the female perspective is important if we want to build a more balanced future.So, yes to getting more women in STEM. Yes to patching a leaky pipeline that loses girls before age eight. Yes to balance. Yes to equality.The thing is, I believe the issue goes much deeper than that. I believe that instilling an early confidence in STEM goes far beyond the professional potential of our girls. I believe that giving girls an “engineer’s mindset” can mean so much more.Let me explain.Science, put most simply, is made of patterns: the rain blurring your vision on the highway, your too-big pants falling down, stains left by sticky little fingers on the couch. Engineering, in its simplest form, is being willing to mess with those patterns: windshield wipers, belts, Scotchgard.I hung a bell on my youngest son’s bedroom door to keep him from sneaking out of his room in the early morning unsupervised. That’s engineering—it really is.Simple, right?The important thing to realize is that in order to mess with these things, you have to have a sense that you can mess with them. If I weren’t equipped with the innate belief that I could solve my own problems, I might still be waking up to find a two-year-old covered in toothpaste, eating dog food. That bell worked because I thought to use it. That bell worked, but I am the one who engineered the solution.I have an engineer’s mindset. When I see patterns I don’t like, I look for ways to change them.This mindset isn’t just valuable in parenting (although I truly believe that all mothers are engineers—we just need to learn to see ourselves that way). It’s also valuable as we navigate the world as women.As women, we come up against patterns all the time, patterns that I’d like to change. Wage inequality, rape culture, impossible beauty standards: we have a long way to go. The women who are making the difference, who aren’t paralyzed by fear or apathy or a lack of confidence, are the ones who are truly engineering a new future for us all.Tired of outdated and unrealistic beauty standards? Change the conversation.Oppressed and demoralized by outdated, racist symbols? Take ‘em down.Tired of being valued for the size of your waist instead of your commitment to your craft? Demand more.Tired of watching girls doubt themselves and their potential? Engineer a solution.Now, imagine a world where an engineer’s mindset was encouraged in every girl. Imagine the relief you would feel knowing that your daughter believed in her ability to take control of a bad situation and change it for the better. The confidence she’d have as she faced barriers that we all, as women, come up against.Imagine the progress we could make. Just imagine.So, yes. Yes to a better future. Yes to STEM. Yes to confidence.Yes to our girls.