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jarich (4909)

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I run Perl Training Australia [] with pjf [] and do a lot of the course writing and maintenance. I also organise the courses we run, so if you want one, just ask. I hang around a bit on Perlmonks [] and also help run Melbourne Perl Mongers [].

Journal of jarich (4909)

Tuesday February 16, 2010
08:18 PM

Barbie tries a career as a Computer Engineer

[ #40188 ]

Mattel ran a competition for the public to pick Barbie's next career. There were about 5 options to choose from. Barbie's career as selected by girls around the world was News Anchor; however the popular vote was for Computer Engineer so they've done both.

A good write up with links to more has been done on the Geek Feminism Wiki.

Disappointingly, yesterday the BBC published an article criticising Computer Engineer Barbie's appearance and practicality. My response, which may be too long to appear in full in their comments field, is below.

I say "Good on Mattel!" Whether or not the current female geek population ever played with Barbie dolls is irrelevant. By having a Barbie doll looking like a confident IT geek, that's one more message to our children (both boys and girls) that girls can grow up to be into computers too. We need more messages like that, because all the literature I've read says that the numbers of women getting into, and staying in IT (in Europe, the USA and Australia at least) is dropping. If it's a men's playground now, what's it going to be when there's less than 10% women in it? How about 5%?

If you look at the careers section for IT in a Malaysian newspaper, you'll find that it's 50% women represented. If you talk to Malaysian business people you'll find that most of them take it for granted that women will apply for IT jobs and get them. No surprise then that there's more than 40% women in technical professions over there, and it's growing. Malaysian women have the same pressure to be beautiful as the English do; and it appears they carry this into their IT roles even more than we do and they've found a way to make it all work.

On the other hand, over here in the first world, our whole culture around who goes into IT is weird. We continue to perpetuate the unattractive stereotype that IT is full of pimply male teenagers who have no social skills; despite having thousands of high profile, attractive men with very good social skills in technical leadership positions we could point to. We continue to criticise, as unrealistic, any portrayal of geek women which shows them as being feminine, attractive, self-confident etc despite numerous women in IT being all those things and more (go read some of the profiles from the 2009 Ada Lovelace day).

There seems to be a fair amount of retrospective retribution going on: "I had to suffer and struggle to get accepted; so anyone coming after me should have to too!" That's not right. If we want more women in IT; we should promote the good bits, and actually try to be realistic about the bad bits rather than talking them up all the time. (As a woman in IT who goes to conferences, I do know that there are bad bits, but I also know that the creepy guys + those with no social skills is still probably less than 15% of the population).

So thank you Mattel for making it just that much easier to talk to girls about going into computers!

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  • There are heaps of women in senior IT management in the Australian Public Service (APS) (the ratios in places like FaHCSIA, DEST [sadly missed], and DEWR [broadly, not in IT Infrastructure] are like those between the sexes in the general population [and since this is Canberra, skewed in favour of those with two X chromosomes])

    By and large they are no less incompetent than males occupying those positions, and do nothing to increase anything good about a miserable excuse for an occupation.

    There are quite a