Before working in IT, I served briefly as an elementary school teacher. I was also a substitute teacher from Pre-K all the way up to 12th grade, in addition to coaching middle school girls and high school girls field hockey. All of these various experiences gave me windows into the work of education and mentorship at numerous points through young people’s lives. Complementing this with my own experience as an Asian American woman in the tech industry, I’ve come to realize how critical it is for educators, parents, and really any adult who ever interacts with a child to think about what we do, what we say, what we convey about value.
Even now, when I think “boy”, I think “strong”, and when I think “girl”, I think “pretty”. The only way to counter our own biases and work towards mitigating bias in our communications is to be more self-aware. A boy might hear “Great job spelling all of the words correctly”, while a girl might here “Your handwriting is so neat.” We need to remind ourselves what we want our girls to really think about themselves – how they define self-worth and what those values should be to promote a healthier career & life.
I am the only female on my team, but my gender and/or my physical appearance in no way affect the quality of my work. My gender is important, but it is not at all a defining factor when it comes to what people can do – what we can learn, what skills we can develop, and how we can excel in school. I want to be valued for my skills, my knowledge, my capacity to persevere and to solve problems, my ability to help my clients achieve their goals. I want young people to demand to be valued for their minds, not their bodies.
Towards the end of elementary school, children are starting to thinking about what makes a boy a boy and what makes a girl a girl. The physiological differences aren’t as important here as the behavioral components – who to sit with at lunch, who to play with on the playground, who to talk to because they’re One Of My Kind as opposed to the Other. We need to create environments where boys and girls are equally welcomed as opposed to separated out by gender lines. We need boys and girls to see one another as One of My Kind – not because of shared hobbies or similar appearance, but out of recognition that “you can do this too”.
While it can help, boys and girls don’t need to share hobbies to get along. Instead, we can value all people across genders for the pursuit of knowledge, the pursuit of excellence. We can ask questions about the world around us and be curious together. We can design things, build things, consider problems, and device solutions. The world needs more critical thinkers, persevering researchers, and problem-solvers. We can think about bringing more girls into STEM because we need more minds in STEM.
Gulnaar K. is a prior elementary-level educator who now works in technology.