April 3, 2017

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How to Get Your Daughters into Tech by Embracing Who They Really Are

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First posted at the Connected Camps blog.

Only 26% of computing professionals are women, which is down from 36% in 1991. Millions of dollars are being spent on closing this gender gap, but it persists. Even though girls are just as into math and science in their school years, few go onto major in these areas, and even fewer go on to tech careers. What can we do to help our daughters buck these odds? Girls and Minecraft offer important hints.

The stereotype is that tech is for boys. Girls are also less likely to have friends, mentors, and role models in tech who they identify with. Parents who want their daughter to embrace technology may give up when she prefers Barbie to robots, or shuns geeky interests because they aren’t popular among their friends. The problem is that when we focus on “breaking stereotypes” we can end up pushing our daughters beyond their comfort zone.

Instead, we need to start with who they really are, and build on positive archetypes rather than focus on attacking negative stereotypes. Girls and Minecraft play is a unique opportunity to encourage tech learning and interests and challenge some stereotypes along the way.

Girls and Minecraft + Archetypes

We’ve written about why Minecraft is educational and supports coding and other tech skills, but there’s some specifics about girls and Minecraft that are worth diving into. Minecraft is unlike other games in that it can build high-end tech skills and it is popular among girls.

Stereotypes are difficult to fight head on, because they are simplistic, pervasive, and often center on negatives like “girls don’t do technology.” We can rail against the stereotype and tell our daughters that it’s stupid, but that’s unlikely to make a difference. Fighting a stereotype is more about saying no than saying yes, and isn’t a positive way forward.

It’s more productive to think terms of archetypes which are complex, malleable, and often positive. Storytellers have often developed archetypes of women in tech, like the “hacker girl.” For example, Darlene (Carly Chaikin) in the series Mr. Robot is built on a similar archetype as Kate (Angelina Jolie) in the earlier film Hackers. They are both beautiful countercultural rebels who can stick it to the boys, but they are also each unique and multifaceted individuals. Our daughters are more likely to connect with a specific and positive archetype than be motivated to attack a generic stereotype.

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If your daughter is into Minecraft, she’s already exploring some unique archetypes of girls and technology that you can build on. What follows are four girl archetypes that can be connected to tech interests through Minecraft; The Geek Girl, The Overachiever, The Artist, and The Socialite. I use Minecraft as an example throughout, but these archetypes can help even if your daughter isn’t a Minecraft girl.

1. The Geek Girl

Does your daughter covet science T-shirts and happily play video games with geeky boys? If so, you may have a rare gem of a geek girl. Give her a hug, do a happy dance, and get ready for the slings and arrows of mainstream expectations. It’s a deep mystery why some girls seem perfectly comfortable owning a geek identity and embracing the social life of boy-dominated geek culture. These girls have been the tip of the spear for breaking stereotypes of who belongs in STEM fields.

I was inspired by the film, Hidden Figures, which chronicles the story of three African American women scientists who worked at NASA in the sixties. Passionate about math, science, and their work, they fought off sexist and racist assumptions to take on major roles in the Space Race. These women are extraordinary, and deserve to be celebrated. But we should not expect all geek girls to be able to persist under such adversity. We can do our part to embrace who they are and provide supports that they’ll need to weather the struggles ahead.

Girl geeks who have survived with their interests and self esteem intact generally have a supportive network of peers, mentors, and role models who share their geek girl identity. Witness how the three women in Hidden Figures supported one another; geek girl solidarity is a powerful tonic. Often geek girls are isolated, and only have boys around who share their geeky interests. Extracurricular activities like robotics or math competitions and tech camps can help connect geek girls, as can online geek communities that have both boys and girls. Some kid-friendly candidates are Scratch, DIY.org, Instructables, and Minecraft.

What You Can Do

If you have a geek girl Minecrafter, then help her find other girls who are into Minecraft. Often it’s hard to find other girls who are into Minecraft in one’s local community, but online Minecraft communities are a fabulous resource. In our family-friendly Minecraft server, we have a healthy mix of both boys and girls, and our counselors are always on hand to ensure an inclusive community. We also found that girls sometimes prefer to be in a girls’ only space, so we offer online summer camps that are just for girls. We also work hard to ensure that we have plenty of young women counselors, because we know how important geek girl to geek girl mentorship is.

The online world is also home to some girl gamer geeks who have huge followings on YouTube, and can be inspiring role models. Some leading lights are Aureylian or Cupquake.

2. The Overachiever

Does your daughter strive to be at the top of her class, get good grades, and be recognized by her teachers? Is she motivated to be a good citizen but doesn’t really nerd out on things on her own? You may have an overachiever on your hands. Overachievers might not have a passion for STEM, but they’ll engage if it’s tied to being successful in school and contributing to shared projects. Girls tend to do school math and science better than boys, but they often don’t really think of tech as part of who they really are and what they do for fun.

My daughter tends toward this archetype. She’s pursued everything available in math, science and technology at school, but she didn’t join the robotics or math club or do geeky things for fun. She’s more into surf culture than tech culture, and lacks the driving personal interest that would make her a geek girl. Up until high school, she did better in math and science than in the humanities, but still wasn’t sure if she would pursue a tech major in college.

The turning point came in her sophomore year of high school, when she went to a luncheon at the California Science Center honoring Gwynne Shotwell, the president of SpaceX, for her contributions to science and technology. She came home inspired, going on about how funny, smart and charming Gwynne was, and how she drove off in a red Tesla! What my daughter needed was an inspiring role model for an overachieving woman in tech who didn’t conform to the geek archetype. Ever since that day, my daughter has set her sights on pursuing a course of study like Gwynne did, and even applied to Gwynne’s alma mater, Northwestern.

What You Can Do

At Connected Camps, we seek out diverse counselors with a wide range of backgrounds and identities. They include young women who are majoring in tech related fields, some from our best universities. This means our campers form relationships with tech savvy big sisters who are both successful and super cool. It’s hard for us as parents to really know who or what will inspire our daughters to pursue an interest in science and tech, but we can help connect them to role models and mentors who are further along the path. For overachievers, it’s particularly important that they have a concrete and clear vision of how a tech interest can be tied to success.

3. The Artist

Does your daughter revel in activities like music, writing, or the visual arts? Has she taken an interest in the more creative side of Minecraft like creating videos, pixel art, or epic builds? Lots of girls embrace an artsy identity and are drawn to creative mode in Minecraft; girl artists might not be the queen bees, but they are probably less socially marginalized than their geek counterparts. But if we want the artist to develop a love for tech, we may need to build some bridges and do some nudging.

The big opportunity is that almost every creative endeavor these days has a technical component. For example, my research team has been collaborating with the Scratch team at MIT to design hip hop music and dance programs that center on coding. I also love how the Digital Youth Network “Digital Divas” program has created afterschool coding and tech clubs for girls that center on creative interests like fashion. I think that girl geeks would also feel welcome here, but so would the creative types.

What You Can Do

Minecraft too can help build bridges between a girl artist’s interests and tech pursuits like coding and engineering. In creative mode, kids can use the game like a digital canvas to make epic builds and pixel art. A girl that is into epic builds can be nudged into building with redstone, which can introduce them to circuitry and other engineering concepts. Budding designers and builders can try out our afterschool programs or online summer camps in engineering, game design, and redstone. It’s all about finding ways to connect learning tech skills to something your daughter is already passionate about--and for the girl artist, that means being creative.

4. The Socialite

Does your daughter love to hang out with her buddies, and be the heart of the social scene? Is she constantly tending to her friends’ needs? If so, you may have a socialite. A socialite is a common archetype for girls, and conforms to mainstream expectations. Socialite girls are often popular with their peers, and can shun science and technology for being too nerdy. Especially as they enter their teen years, peer culture starts exerting a stronger influence. A socialite girl who is into Minecraft in elementary school may stop playing in middle school because it’s not the with-it thing among her peers.

The key to getting your socialite daughter into tech is making it part of her peer culture. Girls and young women have actually been at the forefront of many tech trends. Middle school girls in Tokyo started the text messaging craze that has swept the world. Teenage girls have led on social media adoption worldwide, and are all over social games on platforms like Facebook. And tons of girls enjoy playing Minecraft with friends. These kinds of activities work for socialite girls if they are all about bonding with friends.

Seek out opportunities for tech related pursuits that reflect positively in the eyes of your daughter’s peers. Activities like creating GIFs and mastering social media and apps are opportunities to dive into tech learning. Socialite girls tend to gravitate towards extracurriculars and clubs that are social in nature, like student leadership, yearbook, or dance committees. Some of these activities can have a digital media making component. Social video games are also a big opportunity.

What You Can Do

Girls are already taking to Minecraft as a social platform, so we see many openings to stoke tech interests for socialite girls. Many of our campers participate on our server because they’ve formed strong friendships with other kids and counselors. On our family-friendly Minecraft server, our counselors support casual hanging out as well as activities for campers to play together. Our socialite campers have also created their own activities, like role playing games and a marketplace. Socialite girls may be on our servers or in our camps primarily for social reasons, but they still get lots of invitations to engage in creative activities, design, coding, and engineering that can deepen tech skills and interests.


Enjoy the Journey

These four archetypes and tips are just a starting point based on some of my experiences as parent, observer of kid culture, and co-founder of Connected Camps. Girls embrace many more archetypes than these, like the athlete, the rebel, or the activist. The four included here are just ones relevant for girls and Minecraft, and that we’ve found we can connect with in our Minecraft programs to support girls in engaging with tech.

We can meet our daughters where they are, as unique individuals with their personal identities, motivations, and interests. Not every girl is going to end up being a coder, a scientist, or an engineer. But there are lots of girls who are being held back because of dominant gender stereotypes and a lack of role models and archetypes they can identify with. Parents can do a lot to expose our daughters to other ways that they can connect to tech and feel that they belong in the tech world just the way they are.

Posted by Mizuko Ito at April 3, 2017 3:48 PM

 
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