There’s no doubt we need companies and schools, and teachers that welcome female entrepreneurs and executives en masse. We also know that it takes a few unruly renegades to blaze a new trail, reshaping norms and role-models for those that follow. And before all that—how do we incubate all kids equally, if they’re inclined, to pursue their dreams with confidence? When does this incubation begin? At Beyond, we are exploring the space of technology to discover the fastest route to broadened diversity and creative potential.
The much-circulated NY Times piece, “Technology’s Man Problem,” speaks to the industry’s diagnosis: acute homogeneousness, to invent a technical term. Or acute bro-ism, to adopt a street one. Either way, that we have a problem is not up for debate. As writer Claire Cain Miller puts it: “Many women who want to be engineers encounter a field where they not only are significantly underrepresented but also feel pushed away.”
But the solution to a homogeneous, non-diverse industry is not only about correcting a deficit. It is about preserving quality of output (and thus the quality of invention and growth). Without fresh input—diversity of strengths as well as diversity of thought—we cannot make lasting positive change. The next generation of leaders, both female and male, needs training and mentorship—but that vote of confidence has to be paired with policies, hiring patterns, and a culture designed to support a more diverse industry.
Ana Redmond, a software engineer quoted in the article, left her job as a senior engineer at Expedia after being constantly underestimated and undermined by male colleagues. In 2011 she started her own company, Infinut, that makes educational apps for children. She also teaches computer science and mentors female students at the University of Washington. “For me, what worked best was changing the context,” she said, “not conforming to it.”
Since Redmond’s departure, Expedia has announced programs to develop and retain female talent, with a goal of doubling the number of women in executive roles by 2020. While equal representation is a great beginning, there’s more to correct beyond the opportunities that the corporate world extends to females. As nurturers tasked with cultivating the next generation of confident young people, we set the stage. The context we provide should solve the bigger issue—our society’s need for an infusion of radical creativity.
Do we teach the creative skills necessary for kids—both girls and boys—to be entrepreneurs? Do traditional education settings do enough to prepare kids for solving 21st century problems in an interdisciplinary, human-centered way? Beyond the dangling carrot of corporate profits, can we make the societal changes we need to make if the next generation doesn’t value, demand and reward unparalleled creativity?
“People receive messages about themselves and the opportunities available to them from wider society, family and friends, the classroom and the workplace. We are all exposed to these messages and their balance is crucial to informing the choices we make.” —Anna Zecharia
Boys as well as girls draw, sing, build and dream without hesitation. They’re born hackers, engineers and makers. Yet somewhere along the way, that natural affinity for marching to one’s own beat is drilled out of us. We are taught that rules are paramount, and that the best way forward is the proven and expected one. We grow up and face unprecedented challenges—yet we’ve lost the creative confidence to approach those challenges in a truly entrepreneurial way. That’s what childhood is, after all. It’s the purest form of entrepreneurialism—a thirst for new ideas plus the moxy to give them a shot.
“Imagination leads to creativity, creativity blossoms thinking, thinking provides knowledge, knowledge results innovation and innovation makes the nation great.” – Abdul Kalam
It begins in school. It begins with the toys we are given and the colors we wear. Subtle signals cheer Hooray! The world is yours or admonish Who do you think you are? For instance, ninety-two percent of girls believe they can learn the skills required to lead—yet only twenty-one percent believe they already possess them; and between elementary school and high school, girls’ self-esteem drops 3.5 times more than boys (BanBossy.com). Girls aged 4-7 that had played with the Barbie believe that far fewer occupations are available to them then are available to boys (Oregon State University).
The girls and boys who push through the imposed limitations society places on them—whether it’s the constructs of femininity or machismo—are the ones with parents, teachers and mentors who ask:
- How might we inspire and support children and teens to practice and preserve their creative confidence?
- How might we allow children—especially girls, who are that much more vulnerable to being pushed out—to channel their skills into entrepreneurship, and to create what they imagine?
- How can we step in during pivotal lapses in creative confidence and help young people to navigate successfully to the other side?
At Beyond, we imagine a future of highly inspired creative entrepreneurs who aren’t afraid to fail because they started exploring and trying new things from a very young age. They may still toy with the abstract ideas of wanting to be firefighters or astronauts, but they’ve also discovered the contagious joy of creating something new. A good place to start? The powerful and largely untapped creative potential of games, an immersive staging ground for learning and experimentation. Because the more kids we can raise with the natural inclination to bring ideas to fruition, the more innovative the next generation will be. They will demand of their world what they value: limitless education, industries, and opportunities. They will populate the world—and in doing so, they will create it.
Lital Marom is CEO of Beyond, a gaming label that combines the art of social design and open innovation with new narratives and tools to create experiences that transcend stereotypes, cultivate creative confidence and nurture the next generation of masters and makers. Our mission is to celebrate and cultivate children’s creative confidence and help them invent and imagine without limits. Follow along by subscribing to Beyond’s Facebook page.
If you’re an educator or developer interested in creating new frameworks for creativity, join the Beyond community of co-creators. Contact us at reach[at]wemovebeyond.com.