When most of us think of Google, our immediate thought is of the search engine that answers our every question, the massive tech giant with the enviable work environment, or the creeping Big Brother collecting our data. But the company is also making a name for itself as the go-to resource for promoting diversity in on-screen depictions of STEM fields.
"What we do is try and get computer science into mainstream media, but then we also try to ensure that representations of computer scientists on screen are inclusive of women and people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, people with disabilities, veterans, all underrepresented groups," said Daraiha Greene, head of multicultural engagement in Google's C.S. in Media Team, in an interview with abc7 in Los Angeles. "Usually they would have a white or Asian hacker dude with glasses, no personality, no friends, acne, and you know that stereotype, and it's like, well, ask yourself, 'Why? Why does it have to be that person? Why not make them a woman? Why not make them a person of color?'"
Among their previous initiatives are shows like HBO’s Silicon Valley, Cartoon Network’s The Powerpuff Girls and even Freeform’s critically acclaimed family drama The Fosters, where main character Mariana, a teenage Latina initially obsessed with fashion and dance, develops an intense interest in computer science and robotics.
Perhaps one of the show’s greatest accomplishments in introducing this element of Mariana’s character was in doing so organically. Her interest in STEM feeds into her passion for dance and for competing and eventually into her tendency toward activism and helping others. This varied and nuanced depiction has allowed The Fosters not only to challenge perceptions of gender in STEM fields, telling girls that they too can excel in science, math, and technology, but at the same time to expand the idea of what kinds of girls can participate.
"The goal is that kids will see themselves and say, 'I want to be like her. I know I can be like her.' You know, maybe one day they'll grow up and they'll want to come work for a Google or another tech company," said Greene. "When you have diverse perspectives in a room, it does increase your bottom line, and it does help your products, and it makes your products better."
Google is also working to support media initiatives like a partnership with the National Center for Women in Information Technology. The initiative, called Technolochicas, airs 30-second public service announcements on the Univision network promoting STEM careers to young Latinas.
Depictions of women in STEM fields in popular media have historically led to an increase in women pursuing STEM careers in post-secondary education, such as the Scully Effect of the '90s. While hiring at some technology companies in recent years has shown an increase in female representation, according to a recent study from the Center for Education Statistics, women pursuing STEM fields in college are still drastically outnumbered by men. Perhaps, if more television shows aimed at young girls follow in the footsteps of The Fosters, this number will slowly change with future generations.