I could statistic you to death about how women are still underrepresented in science and engineering, but let me just give you this one about what dismal progress we’re making: between 2000 and 2011, the proportion of science and engineering bachelor’s degrees awarded to women remained flat. And worse, it actually declined in computer sciences, mathematics, physics, engineering, and economics.
We’re losing ground, people! We need to do something about this. Well, we need to do a lot of things about this, but one thing that comes to mind is improving the way we represent women in science and engineering. And right now, there are two great crowdsourcing projects happening in this arena.
Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls at the Party teamed up with PBS Digital Studios’ It’s Okay to Be Smart to launch the “Science Needs Women” project, asking fans to post videos about a woman in science who inspires them – dead, alive, your mom, anyone! They ask that you share your video with #sciencewoman and email your video link to firstname.lastname@example.org. The submission deadline is just one week away, Monday, March 2, so get your phone out and start talking to it about your favorite woman in science.
Now that we’ve covered a great way to bring attention to the real lives of women in science and engineering, what about fiction? What about science and engineering characters in TV and films? There is immense power in portraying women in these fields, giving countless women and girls a much needed fictional role model. This is the premise of the documentary Miss Representation.
In one interview with Geena Davis, she recounts how girls came up to her so often and said of her role in A League of Their Own, “I play sports because of that movie!”
Similarly, Lee Zlotoff who created the show MacGyver, starring an insanely resourceful secret agent, has said, “I literally could not tell you how many times people have come up to me and said, ‘I became an engineer, or I went into the sciences because of MacGyver.’”
With that in mind, Zlotoff has partnered with the USC Viterbi School of Engineering* to launch The Next MacGyver, a contest to find the next great TV show about an engineer, but this time starring a woman. It could be about a prehistoric woman who invents small machines, a futuristic time-traveling badass, or a present day hero who helps the world’s most impoverished communities. I don’t know. I’m not a screenwriter. But if you are, you have until April 17 to submit the title, genre, pilot episode summary, main character description, and three sample episode storylines at the contest website.
*Full disclosure: I am currently employed by the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.