Women in STEM: Hack a Hair Dryer?

Gee, I don’t have time for this. A coworker invited me to do a Hack A Hair Dryer Challenge. One of those challenges to redesign a hair dryer to do something other than dry hair as a part of an effort to get women interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – STEM. Please, I do not have the time and energy to redesign a hair dryer for some other purpose than drying hair. Besides my hair dryer is a high tech ionic dryer that cost $125 and there is no way I’m going to risk damage to it for some challenge.  I am not creatively inspired right now, I don’t have an idea how to redesign and I don’t like to lose. Did I just say that? Those are the reasons women  don’t go into STEM

What has happened to me? When did I become afraid? I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Mechanical Engineering.  I rigged up a box in college to hook up to my stereo. It had a colored lights in a sunburst pattern. The louder the music, the more lights.I could see the music. I designed a paper stacker.  I designed cash gates for ATMs and now I’m afraid of a hair dryer hack? When I speak at STEM programs and the reasons girls give for not going on this path are:

  • I don’t want to risk ruining my GPA with STEM courses, I might not be able to do it.
  • I don’t know if I would be good at it, I will stick with what I know I can do
  • It takes more time and work to do STEM classes
  • There are not a lot of girls in STEM

These reasons sound like my own excuses for not participating in the Hack A Hair Dryer Challenge. The root of my reasons?  I want to be perfect, I want to be the best I can be and I’m not sure this is something I can do. What happened to my passion to create?

How did I even get into engineering in the first place? I had the mathematical aptitude. The thought of going into engineering and being one of the only African American women was not an issue. For me, as a woman, to pursue engineering wasn’t going into anything seemingly different from my daily experience. In high school, since I was commonly one of two African Americans in my class, I was to the point where I didn’t notice the difference. The thought of trying to be perfect at that time? I didn’t have it.  For my self esteem, being one of only a few African Americans in my classes, I stopped comparing myself to what was seen by the larger whole as “perfect.” I am not blonde, I don’t have a perky nose and my lips aren’t thin. Society’s ideal of perfection did not apply to me. I knew I fell outside the curve. It trained me well for life. Maybe the biggest barrier to young women in STEM, is the idea of perfection.

Consider, this has a quest for perfection led to disparity in the job market. When looking at job qualifications, women want to have a high percentage of the stated qualifications for a position versus men who “round up” their expertise? Yes, men round up their qualifications. A Harvard Business Review blog outlined an observation by IBM’s CEO Ginny Rommety. Women “round down” when they compare their abilities with stated qualifications for a position. By contrast, men “round up” and apply for a position even if they only have 50% of the stated qualifications. Women, with only 60% of the stated qualifications, will take themselves out of the running for a position. Is it programing for perfection?Does the reason matter as much as the condition it’s created and the revelation, that maybe women need to rethink and reposition success?

Why do we need women in STEM? A predominantly male group of engineers tailored the first generation of automotive airbags to adult male bodies, resulting in avoidable deaths for women and children”*   Imagine if there had been women in the program? Women would have been involved in testing, women who were mothers would have thought about the children. This is the diversity of thought  women bring to STEM.

It’s now widely acknowledged that countless women with heart disease have been misdiagnosed in emergency rooms and sent home, possibly to die from heart attacks, because for decades what we know now wasn’t known: that they can exhibit different symptoms from men for cardiovascular disease. Women also have suffered disproportionately more side effects from various medications, from statins to sleep aids, because the recommended doses were based on clinical trials that focused largely on average-size men.

Such miscalculated dosages often have not been discovered until the drugs were on the market. Just last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advised women to cut their doses of the sleeping pill Ambien in half, after learning that the active ingredient in the drug remained in women’s bodies longer than it did in men’s.


This is not an example from the distant past; the Ambien issue is from 2014. We must get women into STEM. Our lives depend on it,

Wearable technology is the next hot field. Women are half the population. Isn’t it critical to have women involved in the development and design of wearable tech? I applauded wildly with the other twenty or so  women in a room of over 200 stunned men during a conference presentation when the female team leader for Volvo YCC (Your Concept Car) said:

If you meet the requirements of women, you exceed the expectations of men.

OK, I’m off to hack a new  $13 hair dryer I purchased for the challenge. STEM includes testing. I’m going to test a hair dryer for durability and call it a performance art piece: Women in STEM pas de deux. 

*Margolis & Fisher, 2002, pp. 2-3 Unblocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing

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