Girls today are steering away from math, science and computers in record numbers. In 2011, women in the U.S. earned only 18 percent of all computer science degrees (compared to 37 percent 20 years ago) and made up less than 25 percent of the workers in engineering and computer-related fields. Fewer than 10 percent (9.8) of American engineers today are women.
These statistics stand in stark contrast to the gains that women have achieved in law, medicine, and other areas of the workforce over the past 20 years.
While the lack of women in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields is often attributed to lack of ability or desire on the part of women, a more likely explanation is that societal beliefs, or stereotypes, color our view -- insidiously sending our young girls a message that women do not have strong mathematical ability and that men make better engineers and scientists.
So how do we reverse this trend?
Sheryl Sandberg, the outspoken COO of Facebook and a role model for women in technology, recently gave some interesting -- and very simple advice on how we, as parents, can encourage our daughters to take an early interest in the STEM fields.
Sandberg's advice? Encourage our daughters to play more video games -- and even play with them -- to pique their interest in computers.
Sandberg's words came at a gathering of technorati in Palo Alto, CA, to discuss job creating. The meeting included members of President Barack Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness such as AOL founder Steve Case and venture capitalist John Doerr.
"The best thing we can do is get in there early, which means computer time for your daughters," said Sandberg. "We also need an educational system that teaches everyone basic science and basic math."
Sandberg noted that high-tech jobs pay well, so a gender gap in computer science ties into the wage gap, where on average women still make 70 cents to the dollar compared to men.
In our household, my 2 boys (and husband) are the video game addicts, whereas my 2 girls lean towards music, dance and imaginative play in their free time. By condoning this, I never thought I was sending them a gender-stereotyped message -- that video games and computer programming are for boys -- let alone contributing to the nation-wide wage gap.
I'd better go fire up the Xbox downstairs -- and figure out how to use it -- before my girls get home from school!
Samantha Parent Walravens is the author of TORN: True Stories of Kids, Career & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood, which was chosen by the New York Times as the first pick for its Motherlode Book Club.
Follow Samantha Parent Walravens on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@nosuperwoman