Less than a month ago, I was asked by one of my coworkers to speak to her daughter's Brownie Girl Scout troop about being a female engineer. I was there to inspire them to think about non-traditional careers for women. Apparently, with my sparkly hair, "cool" clothes, and fun hobbies, I'm the epitome of awesomeness for the ten-to-eleven year old set.
The girls heard about my challenges. I was blunt about how sexism can still exist in male-dominated careers, but also told them that it's getting better. I told them about how the women in my workplace lean on each other to work though the unique challenges of just being us. And I told them that, as women, their viewpoints are valid, unique, valuable, and important.
When I was done with my talk and mock brainstorming session, some of those girls were really energized and inspired by the idea of engineering. (in fact, one of the girls told her teacher and now I'm going to be speaking her class about engineering...) They didn't know how much creativity plays into product design. As much fun and creativity, sometimes, as writing. (See? See how I brought this around? Mwahaha!)
When I spoke about my "hobbies" to the girls, especially writing, my talk planted a question in my head that's been bothering me ever since. I talk a good game about inspiring girls to think about traditionally "male" careers, but what do the moms in my stories do for a living? What do the girls dream about becoming when they're older?
Careers aren't the center of a story. Sometimes,they're just tiny mentions... but mentions that can still carry an unconscious bias. When we write, we have a chance to subtly tell that girl who is interested in science "yes, you exist. And you can do amazing things."
Inspire. Lead. Guide. Don't forget the non-traditional as a career option. Make the mom an engineer, computer scientist, astronaut, mathematician. Let your female characters love science class. The subtle can be more important than we realize.