Beki Grinter

Computer Engineer Barbie: The Power of Social Media once again

In computer science, social media, women on April 9, 2010 at 12:14 pm

The Wall Street Post ran an article about the recent vote that led to Mattel announcing Computer Engineer Barbie.

There were several choices to vote for (architect, anchorwoman, computer engineer, environmentalist and surgeon)

Girls the world over overwhelmingly cast their ballot for anchorwoman Barbie—”not a surprise, as girls see Katie Couric and a lot of other female anchors,” says Stephanie Cota, senior vice president of marketing for the Barbie brand.

but then Stephanie Cota adds…

But what happened next, she says, “blew us away.”

The voting was open to anyone, and nobody could vote more than once. But by the end of the first week, a growing flood of adult votes for computer engineer Barbie trumped the popular choice. Female computer engineers who learned about the election launched a viral campaign on the Internet to get out the vote and ensure Barbie would join their ranks.

I was among those who cast a vote, and I know many other adults who also cast a vote, and at least one that helped the National Academy of Engineering by providing information about what would constitute appropriate accessories (thank you Crista, — and thank you NAE for asking Crista who is a very stylish in addition to accomplished Computer Scientist). I am still hoping that she gets a Robotic dog, thank you Andrea Thomaz (another accomplished and stylish Roboticist for the suggestion).

Why grown women felt so strongly about having themselves represented by a doll—especially one that feminists have always loathed—speaks volumes both about the power of the iconic Barbie doll and the current state of women who work in computer and information sciences. Their ranks have declined in the past two decades. In 2008, women received only 18% of computer science degrees, down from 37% in 1985, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology.

I voted because I do hope that girls will play with the doll and imagine careers in Computing. Also I want to add one to my collection of Barbies (a photographer, star trek set, and the one who gets too much email at work — I feel especially empathetic to that). And above all, because computers actually rock, (especially when you add people to them, that’s the real secret sauce).

But now I get to add another reason, Computer Engineer Barbie is another example of the power of social media.

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