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This post is written by Elizabeth Becerril Wong, Startup Weekend Startup Weekend Torreon Organizer

A few months ago, Barbie added another career to her 150+ list of professions: entrepreneur.

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This disclosure was just made ‘official’ through the platform Linkedin, where the blond doll created her profile and stated that her new company name is Dream Incubator, where “I act as a consultant, helping girls around the world play out their imagination, try on different careers, and explore the world around them” in her own words.

This PR campaign led by Mattel originated a big controversy between STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) employed and entrepreneur women. Some women are enthusiastic for a new aspirational image that Barbie can provide to young girls – an entrepreneur who fights for her dreams. The other side believes that Mattel is only looking for moms approval of what Barbie might represent and that this PR play enhances the misconception of what a real professional woman is.

Is it possible that Barbie can share a vision of new careers for young girls or is just creating another stereotype of an entrepreneur woman with pink dress? Can a doll be at fault for the misconception that women are the ‘weaker sex’ and are inferior to men in leadership / STEMS roles?

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What is the real cause for girls to do not pursue STEM or entrepreneurship careers? According to The Center of American Progress, women represent only 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, yet they represent almost 52 percent of all professional-level jobs.

Women face a set of barriers that impede them to close the gap between her abilities and the leadership/innovation roles they can reach. But these barriers are not set by a doll, but by women themselves, and the society that repeats a damaging behavioral pattern.

With help from the study:  “Psychological barriers to STEM participation for women over the course of development” I will discuss some of these barriers and how they permeate the young girls’ minds 

1) On one hand, neuroscience tries to emphasize the difference between women and men’s cognoscitive abilities and also describes how biological differences are the cause for young women to divert from STEM fields (Saucerman, Vasquez, 2014). On the other, recent psychology studies expose social and behavioral patterns that restrict the participation of women in STEM and leadership roles.

2) It is a general stereotype that boys are better than girls in math and science, even when there is proof that their performance is comparable. Sadly, this perception is deeply rooted in our everyday media and cultural history. To make matters worse, when this bias is demonstrated by teachers and parents, girls tend to look to these adulthood figures rather than measure their own performance objectively. Girls end up underestimating their ability in these fields.

3) Other children also influence girls’ attitude toward science and math. If the group of girlfriends support gender-egalitarian beliefs, girls are more motivated to pursue STEM activities than those whose friends adopted the typical gender roles. (Leaper, Farkas, Brown, 2011 cited by Saucerman,Vasquez, 2014).

“I wanted to build things with Legos and my computer. It angered me as a kid that I was considered abnormal for not wanting to play with dolls,” says Jessica F. (education entrepreneur) while describing her animosity against Barbie.

4) Psychological Science Journal published research by Croft, et al declaring that a father’s approach to equality ought to be more than ‘talking the talk’, it has to include congruent behavior inside the house (the father doing the dishes and helping mom with the same amount of house chores).

“Our findings suggest that it is crucial that dads ‘walk the walk’ as well — because their daughters are watching, learning, repeating,” says Croft. (Croft, et al, 2014)

Society, parents, educators and peers, hold strong to traditional gender role beliefs that limit the participation of girls in STEM fields. They do not intentionally try to cut the path for young girls, is an unconscious behavior deeply rooted and unnoticed by the majority that affects the girls’ future.

With the persistent message of “you belong here” – girls believe they are not adequate for leadership or STEM fields. It is to be expected that women pass the same message to the next generation in an unproductive cycle.

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When analyzing the parental expectations for careers between boys and girls, it is shown that parents affect the self-efficacy of girls in STEM fields, especially mothers.

5) Moms have lower expectations of her daughters to stand out in science and technology in comparison with their sons. (Blaker, Jacobs, 2004 cited by Saucerman,Vasquez, 2014). On the other hand, “fathers’ implicit role gender associations play a key role in predicting daughters’ occupational aspirations” according to Croft.

Are parents lowering expectations from their daughters by default? This Verizon ad “Inspire her Mind” recreates what happens between interaction of parents and daughter. A girl shall not get dirty playing with animals or could get hurt by using a drill, better to give it to your brother, are some situations presented in the video.

Then, with this steady reinforcement of traditional gender roles, it is not surprising that one of the fears of productive women is to decide between career and family.

Sheryl Sandberg’s message was clear in her TED Talk about “Why we have too few women leaders”; women have to take initiative if they really want to shine in the professional field. Often, women fall in unintentional defensive mistakes that prevent their success.

For example, in competitive STEM fields, people who strive for a goal either have a promotional or preventive behavior. Promotional being more aggressive in order to achieve what is desired, preventive is centered on avoiding mistakes and playing safe. Women prefer to lean back in order to decrease their chances of failure. Nevertheless, “people who approach their career goals with a prevention focus fail to take even appropriate risks” (Saucerman,Vasquez, 2014).

Women who excel in male-dominated fields tend to acquire a tough front in order to be respected. People who are perceived “friendly and warm” are liked by their colleagues and superiors but are not respected.

Thus, women that display their feelings are conceived as warm but do not get the respect they need to advance in their careers. If they choose high competence and low warmth, they are labeled as “bitchy” and reduce their opportunities of promotion because of major probabilities to being disliked in the workplace.

This T-shirt (featured below) was created Meena Harris and has gained popularity from women entrepreneurs. Harris’s website declares: I live in a one-industry city, where the first thing people want to know is who you are and what you do. Sometimes I just want to say: “I’m an entrepreneur, bitch.” Who are you?

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This product and its impact between business women shows the shared feeling of struggle that day to day women confront in the workplace.

Barbie’s hot pink dress and iPhone are not only to blame for stereotyping women. As I have laid out before you, there is an entire system contributing to how girls and women feel about themselves and where they belong in society. Years of misogyny and advertisements instructing women how to behave have infiltrated our collective mind.

To increase the participation of women in entrepreneurship and STEM fields, women have to realize the small details that give girls the wrong message. When identified, action must be taken and communication of this mistaken approach to society must be shared.

As women, we have to stop acting against ourselves and lead the future generations by example. It won’t be an easy task – baby steps.

 SOURCES:  

Saucerman, J. and Vasquez, K. (2014), Psychological Barriers to STEM Participation for Women Over the Course of Development. Adultspan Journal, 13: 46–64. doi: 10.1002/j.2161-0029.2014.00025.x

Croft, et al (2014), The Second Shift Reflected in the Second Generation: Do Parent’s Gender Roles at Home Predict Children’s aspirations? Psychological Science Journal, recovered from: http://news.ubc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/FULL-submitted-version-PSCI-13-1163d 


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Elizabeth Wong