Want to know the latest trend this spring? Just look at social media feeds and other news sources, and you'll discover that what is being talked about over and over again is Women in STEM. In particularly, the lack of females in Computer Science and Engineering (sorry Medical Science, but you seem to have close to the 50/50 ratio that CS and engineering only dreams of, so we won't really talk about you). You'll hear stats like 18% of CS workers are women, 10% of engineers are female, etc. And that it's been this low for decades. And the different approaches to get more women in tech/engineering. And all the horrible things women in tech/engineering have to put up with/overcome.
As an advocate for women in engineering (and to extend the outreach branch a little more, CS/tech), I'm excited there's so much dialogue about the issue and how can we change the industry to be 50/50 and equal. Yay for people talking about it, and it being everywhere! But what is the cost of it being trendy, I wonder? When will this trend end? Is it just a fade? All fades/trends seem to end. Or best case scenario, it's cyclical, and Women in STEM will be a popular topic again in 10 years.
Also it's time for a true confession (like in Real World; just image me in my confession booth). I really dislike that it's popular right now to be a woman in engineering/tech. In general, tech is the cool; it's in, it's hip (whatever the kids on Real World 50 are saying these days). The rebel in me enjoyed being an engineer (in part) because it was not cool. It was counter-culture; now it's popular culture.
It is also giving me a big ego. I'm so cool and awesome and special because I'm an engineer. It's what everyone is talking about and what everyone wants or wishes to be (in my skewed Real World view). In a way it is like being a reality star celebrity; hot one minute, and probably forgotten in the next fifteen minutes (when the next social cause comes along).
Now that I've done my confession, I'll get over my dislike and ego trip of being a trend because my care and passion to get more women in the industry outweighs my need to stand out, to be a rebel. I'm sure some of you will be receptive to how I feel (maybe even some of you also dislike how popular it is), and I'm sure some of you will be upset (and wish I wasn't an advocate because how could an advocate wish for people to stop making tech cool?).
The question facing this trend then, is how to make sure that the topic of Women in STEM doesn't just fade into the background? I'm not sure I really have that answer, but here's my hope. Hopefully, the advocates from before it was trendy, and the advocates who are jumping on this bandwagon (may they never get off the wagon), keep up their work to recruit and retain women in the fields of STEM. Even when the topic is not cool anymore.
For a great op-ed on the trend, check out Amy's editorial on US News:
Why Do We Need STEM Toys for Girls?
And then kind of related, online discussion about "pink STEM toys":