Inventor of the Week Archive
for a different Invention or Inventor
Toys and Gadgets (founder of Girl Tech)
Getting young girls interested in science and technology has
always been a challenge in the U.S. Sociological factors have generally encouraged
boys to enter such fields while girls have been "left out in the cold," so
to speak. Janese Swanson, Founder and CEO of Girl
Tech, made it her goal to change that. Her company specializes in creating
toys and other products aimed at making technology more interesting for girls.
Swanson was one of six children, born in the late 1950s at
a time when girls were not typically interested in technology or inventing.
At first, Swanson wasn't interested in either of these fields either, other
than having a knack for fixing broken appliances and tinkering with electronic
devices. She remembers having an interest in being a doctor while growing
up in San Diego, California, but no one really encouraged her to do that,
Raised by a single mother after her father was killed in Vietnam,
Swanson held odd jobs as a teenager to make extra money to help support her
family. Most of these jobs had nothing to do with science, but they did help
shape her future interest in science education; specifically, she was interested
in changing the perception of gender roles. Swanson's grandfather pushed her
to become a fashion model, which she did, and she gained valuable experience
learning about styling and layouts and discovered her a talent for design.
She also worked in retail sales at Sears.
Although she was the youngest and only female salesperson in the television
and sound system department, her technical knowledge and sales ability helped
her earn sales awards.
Swanson went on to college and earned a bachelor's degree in
liberal studies in 1981 from San Diego State University.
Soon after, she became a teacher, but when she was layed off she began working
as a flight attendant and resumed modeling for a while as well. While flying,
Swanson convinced a large computer company to donate laptop computers; she
taught fellow flight attendants how to use them during their spare time. Swanson
also continued to attend school, and eventually she earned a total of six
academic degrees, including a PhD in organization and leadership. Her doctoral
dissertation was on gender issues in product design and focused on play patterns
and gender preferences.
In the late '80s, Broderbund
Software hired Swanson as a product manager to lead teams that produced
educational toy and game products such as 'Where in the World is Carmen San
Diego?', 'Playroom' and 'Treehouse'. The idea for 'Carmen San Diego' actually
came from her experience as a flight attendant. She collected post cards everywhere
she went so she could share with kids on the plane. Then she made up games
with them based around geography. "When I produced Carmen, it was natural.
I didn't even really think," she says.
Her experience at Broderbund inspired Swanson to found her
own company, which she did in 1992. At Kid One For Fun, she developed and
licensed toys such as the Yak Bak, a handheld voice recorder for kids. By
then, Swanson had become acutely aware that girls had been typically "left
out" of technology. When her daughter was born in 1992, she became even more
certain of what she really wanted to do, and that was to help develop the
minds of the next generation of girls, who would enjoy, relate to, and use
technology just as much as boys did.
With that goal in mind, in 1995 Swanson founded Girl Tech,
the company she continues to run today. At Girl
Tech, Swanson develops products and services that encourage girls to use
new technologies, such as the Internet and video games. The company has also
published four books on technology for girls, launched a Web site, produced
a magazine ("GirlZine"), and invented a line of electronic gadgets especially
for girls. Girl Tech's technology products are colorful -- orange, lime green,
purple and other colors -- and include the Safe-N-Sound Notebook®, which
opens through voice recognition technology; a room protector Door Pass®
that requires a voice print match for access; and Athena's Gems®, a game
where girls pose questions and receive positive advice.
Swanson's dedication to helping girls is reflected in the many
awards she has won, including the "Annual Leading Change Award" from Women
in Communications, Webgirls, "Top 25 Women on the Web," YWCA of the USA "Advancement
of Girls and Technology", and "Women Entrepreneur of the Year Nominee" from
National Association of Women Business Owners. She was also featured in Ms.
magazine's "Women of the Year" issue in 1997.