Computer Engineer Barbie just arrived with lots of publicity, but does this signify the end of gender conflict and discrimination at work?
True, Barbie has come a long way since she was programmed in 1992 to say “Math class is tough”, starting a firestorm of protest over the negative and stereotyped message for girls. Computer engineering offers far better employment opportunities than Malibu Barbie or Princess Barbie ever had. And real women scientists even helped accessorize her.
But none of this means Barbie will have an easy time in her newly chosen career . Consider the following:
- Only 5 years ago the president of Harvard attributed the lesser success of women in sciences to “innate differences” rather than discrimination.
- Only 27% of the scientific and engineering workforce today is female, and as a group they get less pay, prestige, grants, and appointments. (Judy Peet–New Jersey Star Ledger 3-21-10)
- The number of gender bias lawsuits women file and win each year hasn’t diminished. (Hidden Gender Bias in the Workplace–UC Hastings College of Law—HR April 2008)
- Women in nearly all job categories still receive less pay than men in those categories. ( workplacefairness.org 2010)
Clearly we have a long way to go before Barbie feels she has the same opportunities for hiring and advancement as Ken has had.
The good news is that the leaders of more organizations see the need for change. They want to avoid draining lawsuits and conflict, and get the advantage of everyone’s creative and productive potential.
A good start is to train their managers and employees about gender discrimination, its many forms and effects. Then, provide supportive training for everyone to look at their conscious and unconscious stereotypes and biases. If they can help people put aside their biases when hiring and evaluating job performance and instead use objective criteria, uniformly applied, gender based conflict at work will diminish.
Then, computer engineer Barbie and real women like her can have long, useful, and appreciated careers.