Sunday, February 8, 2015
"So, I hope you're all comfortable judging children," he said.
A father next to me answered, "Sure, I do it everyday at home."
Rim shot. Laughter. I said to him, "Now that's a shareable sentiment. May I?"
"Certainly," he said.
Good times. The science fair organizer finished explaining the judging rules and we were off. It was my first time volunteering for such an event where our daughters go to school. Neither of my daughters participated this time, Beatrice being in kindergarten and Bryce still in pre-K at Westlake Elementary (Go Wildcats!), but maybe in a few years they'll enter. Fourth graders are actually required to develop and enter a science fair project.
The science fair had about 140 entries in total and the 30 judges were broken up into subsets. I had about 12 entries to review and judge across a variety of criteria including interviewing each of the project creators. Some of them included two kids working together, but most were individual contributors.
It was obvious the level of insight and scientific inquiry (regardless of how much their parents helped, and we know we will) versus those that just had to finish one. With the exception of one extremely shy boy who could barely answer my questions, I was able to draw the other kids out, to get them to expound enthusiastically as to why they did what they did and what they would've done differently.
Fascinating and fun for sure -- from cat paws to potato batteries to Hot Wheels speed to catapults to lava rock and soil growth to how light affects fruit flies.
That last one? Well, it was brilliant, at least out of the 12 that I reviewed, and I recommended on the evaluation form that she go to the county competition as well. The girl is a fourth grader and told me that one day she watched her dad pull an old light down from the garage that was full of bugs and asked, "Why were so many bugs attracted to that light and not others?"
Yes, it was "she" who asked. As I interviewed her it was clear how invested she was in this project, from her early hypothesis to final conclusions, of which negated her hypothesis -- she was wrong. But what won me over is that she got that point, and all that she learned from this "trial and error" experience would be applied to the next time, and then the time after that. She honestly embraced failure as part of the process, and that to me won high marks.
This is the scientific method of inquiry not enough of us aspire to. Even if our daughters don't go down this path by choice, we certainly want to encourage them and ensure this path has a welcome wagon. That may prove difficult, however, since the number of women in science and technology are on the decline.
According to “What Is the Impact of Gender Diversity on Technology Business Performance?” from the National Center for Women & Information Technology, The IT labor force demand is growing, yet women’s participation is decreasing. In 1996, women made up 37% of the U.S. IT workforce; by 2010, they made up 25%.
And according to a Wall Street Journal article, in Silicon Valley, which includes Santa Clara and San Mateo counties and adjacent parts of San Mateo, Alameda and Santa Cruz counties (where we live). (And of course San Francisco is factored into some data because of the city’s quickly expanding tech sector.):
"For workers with bachelor’s degrees, median income for men was 61% higher than for women in Silicon Valley – for a difference of $34,233. That gap is growing, and compares with 48 percent in the United States as a whole."
Ouch. And as I referenced last year, although women make up about half of the workforce in the U.S. economy today, less than 25% of them hold STEM jobs (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
With all the microscopes out showing how minimal the diversity impact is in tech today, especially in our neck of the woods, it's no surprise that Facebook and LinkedIn launched a collaborative mentoring and support initiative that will encourage more women to explore engineering and computer science.
That's a good thing, because the news announcement stated that, "Fifteen percent of Facebook's employees working in tech jobs and 31 percent of all employees are women, according to diversity figures the company released last year. At LinkedIn, women comprise 17 percent of its tech employees and 39 percent of employees overall. Most Silicon Valley companies have similar demographics."
Both Beatrice and Bryce -- the B-hive as we call them -- are quite imaginative and love to draw, design and build things, to solve problems and draw positive conclusions about the world around them. This is the golden age of childhood and universal awareness, and dammit, if I could somehow capture this awakened essence I'd inject it into every single one of us.
I jest, yes, but the good news is that many of us still have some of that essence and it helps us "work" toward making the world a better place, both men and women alike (why I'm thankful for my colleagues at PeopleFluent and my collaborators at the TalentCulture #TChat Show).
Plus, the “What Is the Impact of Gender Diversity on Technology Business Performance?” report shared many instances of how women positively impact business including the fact "that teams’ collective intelligence rose with the number of women in the group, possibly because of the women’s higher performance on tasks that required social sensitivity."
So, I'm certainly grateful for #GirlPower. More B-hive buzz, please.