A couple of years ago I joined my niece Tabitha, 8 years old at the time, in solving a puzzle. It took me ages, but it didn't take long for her to identify my problem. “Why don’t you just try a bunch of different things and change what doesn’t work until you get it right?” I, of course, was trying to get it exactly right on the first try, holding off on making a move until I knew it was correct. I tried her solution and quickly solved the puzzle.
Tabitha’s lesson profoundly affected the way I approached my work. It would be a while before I discovered the more formalized version of this approach called Design Thinking methodology. The problem is, at some point she’ll learn to “solve” problems the same way I did. Studies show that while boys are encouraged to take their time tinkering with a problem, girls learn to focus on performance over process, often getting “rescued” from the struggle of figuring things out themselves. They learn to feel insecure about experimentation. This is especially true in S.T.E.M. subjects. In the long run this leads to a gap in mechanical reasoning, one of the largest of all gender gaps. Teaching Design Thinking is one way to start changing this pattern.
Girls Exploring Tomorrow's Technology (G.E.T.T.) is an annual event dedicated to exposing middle school and high school girls to female role models. Through interactive workshops in STEAM fields we informed them on career options, encouraging them to have confidence in their ability to achieve success.
On March 21, along with three fellow leaders from eBay Enterprise, I had the opportunity to co-host several hands-on Design Thinking sessions. We wanted to get the girls excited, to inspire them through workshops designed to help them realize the power of collaboration and the value of their own creative problem solving abilities.
When I took an informal interest inventory by asking for a show of hands in each category, we gained an insight into what motivates these young women. While some girls had an interest in each of the areas of Science, Math, Engineering, and Technology, when asked who was interested in Art, every hand went up.
It’s widely believed that S.T.E.M. benefits greatly from the addition of Art and Design. Certainly innovation in any field requires creativity! Design Thinking can be a great way to engage girls and help them learn to enjoy the process of exploration.
A process that hinges on empathy, Design Thinking is especially valuable because so often the most valuable thing each person can contribute is her unique point of view. Case in point: in our workshop we worked on improving the shopping experience for pre-teen girls (sharing our career path is a part of the exercise, after all). Not surprisingly, the retail business is controlled overwhelmingly by middle aged white men, which might help explain why not one of the 100+ tween girls claimed to enjoy shopping, contrary to what we’re all led to believe. The girls used Design Thinking to define and solve problems that the adults in the room, even the experts in commerce design, wouldn’t necessarily have thought of.
It sounds like a cliché, but the other leaders and I all left that Saturday feeling like we learned as much as the girls did. I guess that’s the power of Design Thinking! And the more we learn about how girls think and the problems they face, the better the solutions we can come up with together!
Want to make a difference in girls’ lives and help to build our future population of women in S.T.E.A.M.? There are so many ways to get involved. Please check out these resources to get started: