Proposition #7

“Initiatives to attract women to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) should focus on teachers and parents instead of on women.” 

Recently, I was talking to high school girls about my profession, for the Dutch Spiegelbeeld program, a database with female role models who work in technology and they told me that often their parents actively discourage them to choose technical. Not to actively discourage, but they just say things like: Are you sure you would like that? or Are you sure this is for you? and that makes girls question their choice.  At the age where kids have to choose what courses they will take (in the Netherlands, this is at age 15) girls are especially vulnerable for critique and want to fit in, where boys still have more of an I don’t care attitude.

I am not the only one with this experience:

“At parent-teacher conferences, mom says ‘I recognize my daughters problems, since I used to fail math too’ This way, girls are being convinced they won’t make it”  [1] (translated from Dutch)

One of the most heart breaking examples of this that I have personally experienced was when a judge at a programming contest for kids asked a participating girl whether the programming wasn’t difficult for her ‘being a girl’. I am sure this judge did not mean any disrespect, he was just trying to be nice, but the girl looked totally puzzled and said in an angry voice “what do you mean, is programming not for girls?” I was feeling super proud at her for answering so strongly, but you could see the seed of doubt was planted, is this the thing for me?

Now as a thought experiment, replace ‘girl’ in your head with another minority and feel how extremely out of line that is. Had this judge said ‘wasn’t it hard for you to program, being in a wheelchair/Asian/gay?’  my guess is there would have been some serious consequences. You see how socially okay it is to say these things about girls?

Parents/teachers: don’t teach kids gender based stereotypes and girls will start to pursue sciences. 2040 thanks you.


A discussion of this proposition with my colleague Georgios made me think of this comic. Al always, Randall Munroe gets it right and a lot more concise than me.



[1] (Dutch)


I am aware I skipped proposition 6.


  1. Marina Noordegraaf

    Agreed! It’s a cultural problem, not a girl’s or boy’s problem.

    As an anecdote: I have two sons. A lot of mothers (well educated) have come up to me and said: “Wouldn’t you have wanted a girl? You could have gone shopping with her. And buy dresses and skirts”. When I tell them I have two totally different children, one of which actually loves shopping (without the skirt part :-)), they look at me and say: “There are always exceptions to the rule”.

    You state that girls are especially vulnerable for critique at 15 and want to fit in, where boys still have more of an I don’t care attitude. I think both want to fit in, and are uncertain, but they dress up their uncertainty in different ways. Perhaps uncertainty shown as uncertainty is more culturally accepted amongst girls and therefore it might in fact grow … And that’s why they get the “are you sure” questions whereas the boys do not?

    Educating parents and teachers will help a lot. Becoming aware of your own stereotypes makes great dialogue!

    For now, good luck defending your thesis on January 23rd



    Maybe you like the following post I wrote (quite some time ago, but it still holds) about the book “Stratego voor vrouwen” (in Dutch)

    1. Felienne (Post author)

      Hi Marina,

      Thanks for the engagement and the interesting blog post! My mom had the exact opposite, she had two girls and everybody assumed she would be able to go shopping and do our hairs and stuff, but my sister turned out to be a soccer lover and I was fond of computers. No shopping and girlie stuff in our house after all 🙂

      I was especially triggered by the statement. “Vrouwen zullen pas echt helemaal gelijkwaardig zijn wanneer ook middelmatige vrouwen op hoge posten terechtkomen” Food for thought! Stay tuned for my final proposition that also concerns girls in tech.

  2. Esther van Schaik

    Couldnt agree with you more! An integrated approach is needed, i.e. an approach that simultaneously tackles all fronts. That is why VHTO,the Dutch national expert organisation on girls/women and science/technology and responsible for the ‘Spiegelbeeld’-database, organises not only special activities for girls (including contact with female professionals/role models). The strength of the current strategy lies in the combination of activities
    for girls, training programmes for teachers and careers advisers and consultations with school managers.

    The goals of the training programmes for teachers and careers advisers are to train them in gender awareness (including international comparisons and research insights), in breaking down stereotypes within STEM, in genderinclusive science teaching and in careers guidance.

    The good news is, that the numbers of females working in technology are growing. On January the 16th VHTO will bring many of those women together:

    I will conclude by thanking you for your enthusiasm and I am sure that the girls you spoke to know now so much more about working in technology! And of course good luck defending your dissertation!



  3. Pingback: Proposition #10 – Felienne's blog

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