Move over ‘Barbie’- Smart is the new pink!

March 12, 2018
Dr. Betsy McGregor
Former Senior Fellow, Harvard Medical School, SHAD Board Member and CAGIS Board, CEO of McGregor Leadership and Grandmother of an amazing girl!

Visited a toy store lately? Pink and blue aisles are still a reality!

But as Barbie turns 59, she’s competing for shelf-space with an exciting array of toys designed to awaken the science-within all children. Swerve away from the stereotypic ‘colour aisles’ and invest instead in these brilliant gender-inclusive, diversity-aware science toys including LEGO NASA women.

In 2017, the Canadian Science Policy Conference hosted a SHAD ( panel entitled ‘Missing Numbers: Girls in Canada’s Science and Innovation Agenda’, featuring eight SHAD Fellows and SHAD summer campus Program Directors, speaking to ‘gender in science’ and respecting the intersectionality of race, ethnicity, First Nation and LGBTQ realities. Equipping and empowering some of Canada’s best and brightest young high-school students for leadership, SHAD is among amazing Non-Governmental Organizations committed to breaking path for girls closer to the beginning of the pipeline.

Two decades earlier, when I was invited by UNESCO to Co-author its inaugural chapter on ‘Gender in Science’ for the UNESCO 1998 World Science Report, with Co-Author Dr. Sandra Harding of UCLA, we examined the gender gap along the length of the ‘Leaky Pipeline’. Just how soon do girls start seeping out of science? Too early evidence shows.

Reports from MIT (Dr. Nancy Hopkins), the UK (Dr. Nancy Lane and The Rising Tide) the EU, UNESCO, Davos Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, and the Commonwealth Secretariat have cumulatively cast the light on the gender gap, offering smart strategies and tools to plug the pipeline. Four Canadian Roundtables I designed with then Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, Dr. Arthur Carty and Senator Lillian Dyck assembled some of Canada’s leading NGOs and Research Agencies to examine the gender gap in science and promote innovative solutions.

Among this array of reports and roundtables, few focus on the very early years of learning. Yet it is here where much of the dye is cast for girls!

The Canada-US Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs & Business Leaders shines the spotlight on ‘Increasing the Number of Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math’ (STEM). It’s Pillar Two Report on STEM mentions the McKinsey Report among others highlighting the economic advantage of advancing girls and women in STEM. Pillar Two specifically states the origin of the gender gap starts in early childhood. It praises imaginative toys, books, apps, videos and merchandise including GoldiBlox – “disrupting the pink aisle in toy stores globally” - also praising Spongelab Interactive based in Toronto, whose Ostevera free science education game resulted from a partnership of ‘Let’s Talk Science’ and Ontario’s Ministry of Education.

ABC Academy is a pre-school program in the GTA. Invited by one of its 4 Academy Directors to mount two sessions on science, I arrived with Coda-Pillar – a Fisher-Price early learning toy. “Codie”, as the two and three-year olds instantly named this bell-clanging, light-flashing segmented toy, provoked instant engagement. By lesson two, these young minds were “coding” the caterpillar to manoeuvre around obstacles. ABC Academy is an ally active at the very beginning of the pipeline, systematically cultivating curiosity through its Mission:

Play to Learn, Learn to Play and Learn to Learn.

Ensuring pictures on school walls show images inclusive of gender, race and ethnicity – and practicing inclusive, diversity-sensitive vocabulary in classrooms, Canada should celebrate these frontrunners. Lakefield College School, for example, hosted over 100 regional high-school girls @ “Trailblazers & Pathmakers” creating action plans to address UN Sustainable Development Goals. Girls reported their recommendations to Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor and Canada’s Minister of Status of Women.

Let’s put the lens on pre-school, primary and secondary school initiatives promoting girl’s leadership in science and entrepreneurship.

In 1975, the UN opened the UN Decade for Women. Its first proclamation contained barley a mention of science. Through subsequent global conferences, increasing light was shed on gender in science. By 1985, the ‘Tech & Tool’ Tent in Nairobi focused on gender in science. By the 1995 Beijing Conference, the ‘Once and Future Pavilion’ was dedicated to women in science. The 1995 Platform for Action contains several sections on science.

The UN-Commission on Science and Technology Gender Working Group ‘Universal Declaration’ illustrated the benefit learning between classic ‘Western Science’ and the wisdom of ‘Indigenous Knowledge Systems’.

The UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science, February 11th, was adopted by the UN General Assembly. Led by UN-Women and UNESCO, it promotes the full and equal access to and participation in science for girls and women.

As the US-Canada Council brings fresh focus on understanding and dismantling barriers to girls and women in STEM – let’s help fund organizations already active on the front-lines promoting gender, diversity and inclusiveness in science for young Canadians.

Could we wish for better timing? Canada’s Prime Minister is bringing renewed force to evidence-based decision-making and clear global commitment to feminism, inclusiveness and gender. Canada’s 2018 ‘Gender’ Budget’ strengthens support for national institutions of research and innovation. But let’s not forget financing the very beginning of the pipeline!

Let’s celebrate – no, let’s support – Canada’s underfunded and less-recognized champions cultivating children’s love of science. Let’s begin before the dye is cast. Who is out there advancing this agenda for our children? Does the new budget for science in Canada allocate sufficient priority and financial funding to the front-end of the pipeline for these champions?

Governments and Leaders in Corporate Canada should continue to explore and intentionally support Canadian NGOs among them: SHAD Programs across Canada, ‘Let’s Talk Science’, ‘Coding Girls’, the Canadian Association of Girls in Science (CAGIS), Canada’s Science Fairs, TechGirls, and FIRST Robotics Canada inspiring Canadian High School and elementary school students to pursue science through its HUBs and cross-Canada teams building robots and competing in tournaments. Link to its recent ‘Robots and Girls in Canada’ initiative. Visit Girls Learning Code

Discover that Girl Scouts introduced badge categories based on special STEM activities including Naturalist, Digital Art, Innovation, Financial Literacy and Science and Technology.

Exciting ground has been broken by these and other NGOs for young girls in science.

Support them Canada! And ‘Move over Barbie.’

Smart is the new pink!