The Importance of Building DIY-Confident Girls

Teaching DIY skills to girls can help them build confidence and self-reliance, and introduce them to traditionally male-dominated careers.

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When I was maybe six years old, a group of us were playing in a neighbor boy’s garage, hammering nails into scrap wood. (Never mind that we were playing with hammers and nails with no adults around — it was the 1970s!) The boy would only let us hammer in the nails halfway, claiming that “girls aren’t good at it.” I protested, because my dad had already taught me how to hammer a nail all the way in. I think I probably walked home in a huff.

Decades later, that event stays with me as an early example of the false notion that DIY skills are among the things “girls aren’t good at.” I kept at it, thanks to a dad who encouraged me.

As an adult, I called on those skills time and again. In emergencies, like changing a flat tire; to save money, like replacing a garbage disposer instead of paying a technician to do it; or for my own satisfaction, like installing tile in my first home.

In honor of Women’s History Month, and to honor all those dads, moms and mentors who teach their girls to hammer the nail all the way in, let’s examine the importance of raising DIY-confident girls.

Why Girls Should Learn to DIY

There are so many reasons why it’s important to teach girls to use tools, make repairs and build things. It matters for practical reasons like those I shared above.

A girl who learns DIY skills will grow into an adult whose knowledge will come in handy in a household emergency. As a homeowner, I called on and enhanced my DIY competence because I enjoyed doing things myself and couldn’t always afford to call a pro. Having a few skills in my toolbelt saved me money and gave me the confidence to learn new skills, whether it was running a wet saw, stuccoing my house or installing a door.

But there’s a lot more to teaching girls to DIY than just DIY. Amy Straub of Amy Straub Design, a New Jersey-based firm specializing in the design and installation of custom residential built-in solutions, advocates for women in typically male-dominated trades.

“Girls are strong, capable problem-solvers,” Straub says. “Yet, when it comes to tools, building and repair, they have traditionally been left out of that space.”

By fostering a basic understanding of tools and building in a young girl, Straub says “we instill confidence, self-reliance, curiosity, and creativity.” And those traits will serve her in virtually every aspect of her life, whether it’s education, employment, relationships or friendships.

Plus, Straub adds, DIY competence opens doors to hobbies and careers that are not typically encouraged in women.

The high cost of a college degree and a shortage of skilled workers in well-paying trade jobs have led more and more women to pursue careers as construction managers, welders, electricians, plumbers and HVAC technicians. Although it’s still very much a male-dominated industry, the number of women-owned construction businesses is growing, too.

How to Spark a Love of DIY

My dad nurtured my interest in DIY by letting me watch his backyard and garage projects, and tag along on his “research trips” to the local hardware store. (Those trips could last for hours!)

Today, my husband, who owns a construction company, instills the same can-do attitude in our nine-year-old daughter. She’s too young to join him on the job site. But on projects around our home, he’s shown her how to use a jackhammer (shown in photo, above!) and mix cement. And she accompanies him on supply runs to the building supply center.

All that helps negate some of those gender stereotypes that she’s hit with every day. And he’s showing her that the idea that “girls aren’t good at it” is even more antiquated now than it was for me decades ago.

We asked Straub for her advice on how to spark a love for DIY in our daughters:

  • Let her help. “Put a tool in her hands and include her whenever there is a project,” says Straub. “Remember that challenges in home repair and building are incredibly important teaching moments. Don’t let your girl get discouraged by setbacks as these are amazing moments to teach ingenuity, gumption and resilience.”
  • Get her some gear. “When I was a young girl with smaller hands, my dad gave me a hammer that was my size and allowed me to feel successful when helping him with projects,” Straub says. “I still keep it in my office and it reminds me of spending time with my dad while building gifts for my mom.” Build your girl’s toolbox, and don’t forget pint-sized protective gear.
  • Enroll her in programs. Fortunately, community programs like the awesome Girls Garage that nurture DIY skills in girls are popping up all over. “Seek out programs in your area,” says Straub. “Advocate for school curriculum incorporating these important life skills such as the traditional shop class and arts programs that integrate technical set design, sculpture, and building.”

Elizabeth Heath
Elizabeth Heath is a travel, lifestyle and home improvement writer based in rural Umbria, Italy. Her work appears in The Washington Post, Travel + Leisure, Reader's Digest, TripSavvy and many other publications, and she is the author of several guidebooks. Liz's husband is a stonemason and together, they are passionate about the great outdoors, endless home improvement projects, their tween daughter and their dogs. She covers a variety of topics for Family Handyman and is always ready to test out a new pizza oven or fire pit.