Target Will Stop Labeling Toys for Boys or for Girls, A Study Shows that Girls Prefer Less ‘Geeky’ Classrooms, The Challenge to Event Organizers to Make the “50-50 Pledge”

Target Will Stop Labeling Toys for Boys or for Girls

A recent Washington Post article discussed retailer Target’s decision to eliminate “boys” and “girls” signs from its toys and bedding departments. The decision, which supports the notion that gender stereotypes and gendered marketing are outdated, was met with both high praise by progressive parents and extreme outrage by conservative parents. The conservative outrage seems to stem from a widespread misunderstanding of the concept of “gender neutral” in a marketing context.

“Gender-neutral marketing” doesn’t signify an attempt to make males and females the same, or to ban traditionally gendered toys like Barbie and G.I. Joe; it simply means organizing products according to interest or theme — not by boy or girl. And given that gender-based marketing only came into fashion in the 1990s,  it’s actually a throwback to a bygone era that many critics of the practice grew up with.

Target’s decision to make this change is the culmination of the activism of countless parents, educators, and critics. International parent-led grassroots organizations such as Let Toys Be Toys and No Gender December have helped parents and corporations understand in recent years that gendered toy segregation can make boys and girls feel needlessly ashamed of their desire for unstereotypical toys, like chemistry sets and LEGO toys for girls, or play kitchens and dolls for boys. As a society, we no longer believe women should be restricted to certain jobs or that fathers are ill-suited to tending babies. So children’s play should reflect modern cultural norms, rather than be boxed into 1950s-era stereotypes driven by marketers’ desire to segment the child audience for maximum profit.

This makes Target’s decision to follow the precedent set by major retailers internationally a good thing for consumers and stores alike.

A Study Shows that Girls Prefer Less ‘Geeky’ Classrooms

A new University of Washington study, as reported in Geekwire, has found that three times as many girls were interested in enrolling in a computer science class if the classroom was redesigned to be less ‘geeky’ and more inviting.

“Our findings show that classroom design matters — it can transmit stereotypes to high school students about who belongs and who doesn’t in computer science,” said lead author Allison Master, a post-doctoral researcher at the UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS), in a statement. The study of 270 high school students, ages 14 to 18, was conducted by showing the group pictures of two different computer science classrooms, one with “geeky” objects such as computer parts and Star Trek posters, and a nontraditional classroom with plants, art, and nature pictures. Unlike with the girls, the boys didn’t express a solid preference of one room over the other, and the room type didn’t affect their level of interest in studying computer science.

“Stereotypes make girls feel like they don’t fit with computer science,” Master said in the statement. “That’s a barrier that isn’t there for boys. Girls have to worry about an extra level of belonging that boys don’t have to grapple with.”

NCWIT offers several resources for making educational environments inclusive and inviting for all including How Do You Retain Women through Inclusive Pedagogy? Framing a Supportive Classroom Climate (Case Study 4) and How Does the Physical Environment Affect Women's Entry and Persistence in Computing? Design Physical Space that Has Broad Appeal (Case Study 1).

The Challenge to Event Organizers to Make the “50-50 Pledge”

A recent Fast Company article highlighted a new movement to encourage equal representation of male and female speakers at tech events. The movement began with a tweet by tech entrepreneur Sandi MacPherson, who was frustrated by the lack of women’s representation in technology, and specifically in the expert-speaker lineups at the industry’s many conferences and events.

"Events are the face of the industry," she noted. And more than that, "speakers get access to people and the press that they wouldn’t otherwise." She looked at conference data and realized that men were more likely to reap those benefits, outnumbering women speakers by roughly three to one. Everyone seemed aware of the problem, but no one had arrived at a solution.

Her solution was to tweet a link to a form, inviting women in technology to volunteer as speakers. She now has a growing list of more than 1,100 women leaders at tech companies. Armed with her database of names, MacPherson is hoping to prod event organizers to commit to her "50-50 pledge" and equalize their numbers of male and female speakers. She plans to partner with organizers and provide them with suggested speakers "focused on the right topic and in the right role." She already has one commitment, from author and behavioral design expert Nir Eyal. At his third annual Habit Summit, scheduled for March 2016 at Stanford University, he has pledged 50-50 male-female speaker representation.

MacPherson dismisses criticism that her parity goal is too ambitious. "The number of people speaking at these events is actually really small," she says. "It’s not that hard to find 20 individual people. But the potential ripple effect is really big.”