Freely Made Choices

Posted by Lloyd on June 23, 2009

Munching on Girl Scout cookies this time of year? Here’s some food for thought—the Girl Scouts just unveiled a new project that doesn’t involve baked goods. Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) announced on January 6th that they’d teamed up with the Ad Council to produce public service announcements on girls, math, science, and tech jobs. According to GSUSA, women make up only 25% of the tech workforce in the country, and these jobs are the wave of the future. So the new radio and TV spots urge parents to make sure their daughters take lots of math and science classes and learn how fun these subjects can be. “It’s her future. Do the math,” the tagline says.

As a former math and science class junkie myself, I applaud the idea. But the Girl Scouts’ logic isn’t as good as their message. Perhaps women make up only 25% of the tech workforce. But much of that has to do with preference. Women have shown they are no slouches in other fields that involve science and math. So even if women take all the math and science classes in the world, that gender gap in technology may never disappear.

Chalk One up for the Sisterhood

Young women do need to take harder classes. When I attended the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics and Humanities in the mid-1990s, for instance, the high school shuffled seniors into one of four math tracks: regular calculus, AP Calculus (AB), AP Calculus (BC) or Multivariable Calculus/Linear Algebra. The regular calculus class was mostly female, the next level split, the third level mostly male until we came to the toughest class, which featured one girl—me. Since most students applied to selective colleges where advanced math was the norm, more girls could have benefited from the tougher classes. And too few students—male or female—took the AP Biology, Chemistry and Physics classes offered. At schools that don’t draw students specifically for math and science, the problem is even worse.

I took all the math and science I could, then went to college ready to do the same. I enrolled in math and organic chemistry, but also in writing and politics classes.

That’s when I discovered I liked writing and politics more.

…to be continued