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The word “geek” has become ubiquitous in the discussion about education and diversity in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). CNN recently published a story headlined “5 reasons technology world needs more geek girls.” The effort to get women and children more involved in STEM careers has led to the Geekbus traveling classroom and Geek Girl Dinners. The nerd image persists even in the working world: Best Buy has the Geek Squad in which agents, including women, wear a masculine and stereotypically geeky uniform of a white shirt and tie.
There’s been a concerted effort in recent years to improve diversity in the growing and lucrative STEM careers. Today, young women receive just 18 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer sciences and 43 percent of degrees in mathematics and statistics. If we really want to include and engage girls in these fields, the geek language has to go. In schools and in society, “geek” still carries a negative connotation that many girls and women do not associate with. Using a socially awkward loner as a symbol for STEM isn’t an effective method for attracting girls to these fields. In fact, it’s counterproductive. To fill these jobs, we need young women to discover how their own skills and passions apply to STEM. But we risk isolating many by suggesting that these careers are only for people who embrace their inner geek. We should be showing young women that they can love science and math while also being fun and social people with broad interests.
Certainly, there are many girls who identify with the geek image. But they may be sold on STEM careers already, preparing to become part of the about 20 percent of engineering students who are young women. Those aren’t the girls primarily targeted by STEM diversity campaigns. I want to reach the other 80 percent and show them the fascinating careers available in science and math. To truly embrace diversity and reach gender parity in STEM, we must engage all girls.
Named one of the 100 Women Leaders in STEM by STEMconnector (PDF)
Source: Washington Post