Women are rising in the ranks across many industries, and for the first time since the 1970s, females have outnumbered males in higher education enrollment. However, the numbers fall short when it comes to STEM-related careers, which focus on science, technology, engineering, and math. Randi Zuckerberg—yes, that Zuckerberg family—wants to change that. The mom of two young boys, founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media, and editor-in-chief of Dot Complicated, a modern lifestyle community and blog, sat down with Parents to share what tech means to her and how she hopes to inspire girls through her children's book and new TV series Dot.
Parents: Why is it so important to introduce STEM-based learning to kids?
Randi Zuckerberg: There's a lot of layers to this, and I like to advocate for STEAM, which includes science, technology, engineering, art, and math. My involvement with arts and theater as a young girl steered me in such a positive direction and taught me the value of discipline and hard work. That being said, science, technology, engineering, and math is the language of the future no matter which industry you're in. Our kids will need to be able to have technical conversations and build websites, so these are skill sets that we will need to have.
How can we encourage kids who aren't as interested in math and science to get excited about it?
Pop culture and the media can be hugely influential here. We start to lose girls' interest in math and science at around 7 or 8 years old. Whether this idea comes from society, school, or the home, it's especially important if you have a young daughter to make science, tech, math, and engineering fun, exciting, and accessible. That's where we need to focus. There's a lot we can do with toys and activities for kids and even toddlers that teach the basic building blocks of coding and engineering without sticking a kid in front of a computer, because not all kids like video games. Even though this does involve a screen, Minecraft is my favorite way to get girls into coding, because they don't even realize that they're learning how to code. There's so much we can do, we just have to get a little creative.
Why are we playing catchup with getting girls involved with STEM?
I've spent the last decade in Silicon Valley, and you really feel the spirit of innovation and entrepeneurship in the air, but you look around and everyone looks the same. There are no women or minorities or diversity at the table. Somewhere along the way we went horribly wrong. This is a multi-prong problem that will require big upheaval in our education system, and we'll need to start introducing these STEM or STEAM fields earlier and make them more accessible. It takes effort to round out your ranks with women and people of color, but it's worth the effort and has a huge impact on the bottom line.
We need to look at recreational tools, too. Boys are often introduced to video games earlier than girls, and this acts as a gateway to coding and engineering. We need to market these toys and games in a way that attracts girls just as much as boys.
How do you hope to inspire viewers through your new show?
I had two missions when I created Dot. The first was to get more young children, especially girls, excited about STEM programs. I wanted to challenge the traditional way of thinking of who an entrepeneur is in our country. Dot has a diverse group of friends that represent groups of people you don't usually see in tech and entrepreneurship. I wanted to give kids characters and role models that look like them. I also wanted to capture modern childhood in a fun way by showing kids how to find a balance between tech and being unplugged, which makes up a big portion of today's childhood and parenting.
How has technology use shaped your own parenting philosophies?
Having kids made me see the importance of balance and unplugging. Working in Silicon Valley—and most industries outside Silicon Valley—it's easy to be plugged in around the clock, but it's important when you have kids to put the phone down, look them in the eye, and spend quality time with them. I never wanted my children to grow up feeling like they were competing with a phone for my attention, so that forced me to put in my own rules and boundaries about my own behavior with tech. There's a healthy balance of when it's time for tech and when it's time to go outside and play and that has shaped a lot of what's going on in my house and my parenting.
Should parents really be worried about tech use?
I know that as a parent it's easy to connect tech and your children with guilt and anxiety, but it's important to know that children don't see the world that way. Children don't differentiate when they are and aren't using tech—that's just childhood for them. For kids, the future is fun, so parents need to view technology from their kids' perspective. Instead of fearing it and fighting it, find ways that make it work for your family.
What do you hope to see in the future when it comes to getting girls interested in and exicted about STEM-related activities and careers?
One of the things I think is so exciting is we're starting to see the rise of a lot of new industries within the STEM field where girls can especially excel. There are a ton of new creative roles inside the tech sector, like product design and technical design, that are especially appealing to girls and women who might usually be turned off by traditional components of STEM. We're entering the age of women in STEAM and I hope that we see 100 more pop culture and media projects like Dot in the future.
Dot premiered on NBC's Sprout October 22. Check out more videos of the show here.