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The Barbie Factor by Caroline Simard, Vice President of Research and Executive Programs

Barbie became a computer engineer today. In a field that has so few female role models, this is a victory. For most young girls, becoming a technologist is not on the radar of the possible jobs. Research shows that girls are less likely to be encouraged by parents, peers, and teachers to pursue math, science and technology. Any effort that dispels the notion that computing isn’t for girls is a significant achievement.

Barbie became a computer engineer today. In a field that has so few female role models, this is a victory. For most young girls, becoming a technologist is not on the radar of the possible jobs. Research shows that girls are less likely to be encouraged by parents, peers, and teachers to pursue math, science and technology. Any effort that dispels the notion that computing isn’t for girls is a significant achievement.

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Mattel launched a social media voting campaign to vote for Barbie’s 125th career. Young girls, Barbie’s main customers, voted for her to be a news anchor. But the “popular vote” said she should be a computer engineer. As a result, Barbie has now careers number 125 and 126, the latter becoming computer engineer.

 

This result is a great example of the power of mobilizing for a cause through social media. The twitterverse and Facebook were full of pleas to vote for Barbie as a computer engineer for the past several weeks, with many of our partner organizations actively spreading the word, and countless technical women getting everyone in their networks to vote.

 

This effort and news led me to check out Barbie’s social media presence – I was surprised at how much she had changed. When I was growing up, Barbie was not exactly a symbol of girl empowerment. She stayed home. She was a good wife, she raised the kids. Ken went to work in his fancy blue car and she waited at home with an apron on. While waiting, she tried on various fashions and did her hair (and when I did her hair, fashion disaster ensued).

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While I grew up, she appeared to have ditched Ken (never hear about him anymore) and pursued a career – 126 of them. What I like most about computer engineer Barbie is that she is both girly and an engineer. Her laptop is pink. Yes, pink is a gender stereotypical color, but Barbie has always been about pink and glitter.

 

Lots of people want to know more. What exactly is Barbie Computer Engineer working on? Some interesting debate in cyberspace is happening about whether Barbie should use Linux, whether she is inventing a new operating system, what language she is coding in…

 

My next hope for Barbie? That she gets something to eat

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