Midpoint Series: Sabrina Stierwalt on Solutions & Resources for Google

This guest post from Sabrina Stierwalt is part of the 2012 Midpoint Series. See all of the posts in the series here.

If I asked you to list some of your favorite “artists, pioneers, and scientists” off the top of your head, and you gave me 16 names, how many of those do you think would be women? 4? 8? 16? What if you were a multi-billion dollar, 30,000+ employee company that aims “to best support diversity and inclusion in a way that is both locally relevant and globally impactful” and you had the power of the internet to diversify your list? Then how many women would you come up with?

As of June 27, halfway through the year, in their 16 U.S. Doodles for 2012, Google has chosen to honor ZERO women.

Obviously, this is a problem.

By not selecting any women, the Google Doodles team sends the message that women do not make impressive scientists, women do not make an impact as artists, and women do not contribute on a creative level: the ideas and contributions of women are not worth recognizing.

It’s true that men have had a head start. It wasn’t until 1849 that the first woman received a medical degree (Elizabeth Blackwell), the U.S. did not see a female college professor until 1871 (Harriette J. Cooke at Cornell College), and we have yet to elect a female president (these dates are from the National Women’s History Museum timeline of women and education). So we may find more men on this list than women. But ZERO women?

Did you know the first person to make cross-cultural comparisons in the field of human development, the first person to have an asteroid named after them while still alive, and the first blind & deaf person to graduate from college were all women? (Check out the anthropologist Margaret Mead, the nuclear physicist Chien-Shiung Wu, and Helen Keller.) Some argue that the first computer programmer was a woman (Augusta Ada Byron Lovelace). Even without these impressive ladies, the fact that women have historically been excluded from certain fields shouldn’t start to skew the Doodle statistics until we’ve exhausted the supply of women. The men selected by the Google Doodles team aren’t purely based on some quantifiable measure of their impact or how famous or recognizable they are. They have chosen men who have made contributions that impact our everyday lives whether we know their names or not.

The men chosen for Doodles are also not just from the fields of science, math, anthropology, or history – areas where women still tend to be under-represented. The Doodles include references to pop culture and our childhood memories. As a child of the 80s myself, I loved Gumby (Doodle: Oct. 12, 2011) and The Addams Family (Doodles: Jan. 7, 2012), but I’ve also saved a special place in my heart for the Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake, and the Popples (Susan Trentel designed all three toys). And of course I rocked a Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper – can’t you just see a Doodle honoring her, with a pink and purple unicorn jumping over the double o’s?!? In September, the Google Doodles team celebrated the very popular puppeteer and producer Jim Henson, but they missed a significant opportunity to honor Joan Ganz Cooney, who founded the Children’s Television Workshop (now the Sesame Workshop), created Sesame Street, Square One & 3-2-1 Contact, and was ultimately the one to pull Jim Henson into these projects. She was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to boot! Doodle-worthy women are not hard to find, so why are they being overlooked?

When we ignore the contributions of half the population, everyone loses. So here is my advice to the Google team.

  1. Think about how you are deciding whom to honor with your Doodles. If the answer is, ‘we just think of the first people who come to mind,’ and you haven’t managed to come up with any women, then you’re thinking about it wrong.
  2. Read a little about gender inequality and bias. (I’ve given you a few places to start below.) Learn why a diverse set of role models is so important for young people and why women are still hugely under-represented in fields relating to science & technology.
  3. Think about these issues and start taking them seriously. Start thinking about what ideals you value, the people who you value both in your personal life and through their contributions to society, and the message you are sending.
  4. Start addressing your gender bias problem. Brainstorm just a few women who have made the kind of impact that Doodles want to honor. In addition to the inspirational women highlighted here on Speaking Up for Us, I’ve provided more resources for you below to give you a place to start.

The point is not equal numbers just for equality’s sake. The point is that we can do better.

Recommended Reading on Gender Bias:

Links to Books/Lists of Inspirational and Innovative Women:

— Sabrina Stierwalt


Sabrina is an astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology where she researches how stars form in other galaxies. Her work takes her to telescopes all over the world, including India, Australia, Chile, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. She wakes up every morning to the soft snoring of her bulldog and ready to fight for under-represented people everywhere. She likes organic food, tattoos, and running, and dislikes strangers telling her to “smile”. 

5 thoughts on “Midpoint Series: Sabrina Stierwalt on Solutions & Resources for Google

  1. Well said! Sabrina points out an important issue that needs to be addressed by Google, particularly given their claim of diversity. Google I hope you take note and action quickly!

  2. Great elephant photo!!! Such a sensitive and brilliant photographer you must have had!

    Also , those Google doodlers … I shake my proverbial fist in their general direction 🙂

    Beautiful article Sabrina!

  3. Pingback: July 24th: Amelia Earhart! | Speaking Up

  4. Pingback: Speaking Up-date: 2014 So Far, and Google’s Renewed Efforts | Speaking Up

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