As it turns out, yes, they can. But it makes it easier if you don’t say idiotic things like ‘girls can’t do math’.
There’s a great site I just ran into: www.girlsgotech.org
It’s run by the girl scouts and, obviously, is a tech site aimed at girls. Which personally I think is pretty awesome.
One of the interesting things about being in the software industry is the almost complete lack of woman, outside of the design/PR/sales parts of the industry. A female programmer is as rare as a non-caffeinated programmer. They exist, but you need to look pretty hard for them.
I ran into a Newsweek article awhile back written by a woman engineer abotu Women in Engineering. It was one of those moments where you read something and a light bulb goes off that illuminates the inside of your head, both past and present. And most of it makes you feel pretty stupid. One of the main points being math is hard. For pretty much everyone. The main difference between boys and girls is that boys are regularly told they’re supposed to be able to do math, and girls are, far too often, told “girls aren’t good at math” or some variation thereof. When the going gets tough, which it frequently does with all things mathematic (and physics and chemistry and…) guys have motivation built-in from society and girls get an easy cop out, if they want it.
This results in not enough woman engineers and the world is probably considerably worse off for it. Once I started writing this I started poking around the web a bit and found this site: www.shessuchageek.com
Which includes a post about Tim Berners-Lee feeling the same way. So apparently I’m in good company.
I’ve met enough women that are fully capable in math and the sciences to dispel any illusion that somehow women can’t handle a little math. This includes being privy to a conversation between a friend of mine (who I consider the smartest person I know, and I know a fair number of smart folks… or, at least, smarter than myself) and a female friend of his as she went over the math and algorithms behind an MRI machine. The stuff she was discussing was far above my limited capabilities, and was quite impressive.
Bottom line… if you are in a position to influence girls before they buy into the barbie-syndrome, please turn them on to math and technology. The tech industry will thank you.