Closing Digital and Gender Gaps in Coding: Getting Girls to Byte, Part I

I wrote about the issues with gender and coding back in January 2018. On returning from maternity leave in 2016, the reputation of all things digital had seemed to revert from the techie creativity of all things ‘appy (aka the Apple boom following the launch of the iPhone and iPad) to the coding masculine, black t-shirts and all boys club of the 1980s.

Things needed to change. I thought I would do my bit.

Initially I founded and launched a project to support female school leaders engage more with technology. As 2018 has moved on, and the GEC (Gender Equality Charter) has grown, it became very clear to me that a more joined up approach was needed. Supporting women educational leaders was not enough – we need to support everyone.

The 2018 A Level results have really articulated the current issues with have when it comes to women in technology – those in our schools, those with digital futures. The World Economic Forum have suggested that by 2020, 4 men will be displaced by digital jobs – and an astonishing 20 women will. This is because – as the theory goes – machines will take over jobs where they can. In our world in 2018 the people who do most of these jobs are women. See this article, detailing the Oxford University report, in The Telegraph for a break down of UK jobs.

I do however need to add this though. In a new article by Bhaskar Chakravorti, Dean of Global Business, The Fletcher School at Tufts University, there is a suggestion that as women will be displaced first (in the first of three waves of automation posed by a PWC report), they will be the first to train and engage in modern life. This means they will be retrained and back in a contemporary workforce before the men are in the third wave.

My thoughts (and hopefully yours) are that we need to change this. We need a society more engaged with its future. Initially, we must engage more women in technology so they are not left behind – and displaced by a ‘robot’. I mean – really?! We need to equip more women into technology so they are part of the forth industrial revolution – rather being left in its wake.

I interviewed Cat Lamin, Raspberry Pi Leader for GECFutures. Cat is a former Primary school Computing Co-Ordinator and is now a Computing Educational Consultant, with experience in creating, delivering and managing teacher and student training material and workshops in UK, Brazil, Argentina and America. She is a regular speaker at Educational and Tech events, and is one of my geek girl heroes.

What are your thoughts about the recent A Level gender gap results when it comes to Computing?  

Computing has an image problem.

Early successful computer scientists were women, but suddenly in the 1980s, computers and home computing started being advertised as a ‘boys’ toy. A quick google search will show that this is still the case. Occasionally you see a pretty pink laptop (with lower specs) that is aimed at girls specifically, but what this doesn’t address is the lack of computing role models in the 21st century.

Ask anyone to name some prominent computer scientists and you can guarantee they’ll be able to name plenty of men, but very few women. Sure, one or two might mention Ada Lovelace and you may even hear about Margaret Hamilton or Grace Hopper, but what about people who are pioneering right now and changing the world with their computer science work? This is true across STEM to be honest – where are the famous female scientist, the famous female engineers?

Teenagers today are influenced by what they see on social media and what they see on TV, Youtube and online. They need to realise that computer science isn’t just a boys’ game; we need to change the narrative and introduce role models of all genders that don’t conform into the IT crowd stereotype (don’t get me wrong, it’s a great show, but the one woman in it is thick as two short planks).

I speak to a lot of girls who enjoy coding and computer science, however, by the time they hit their teen years, they don’t feel like it’s socially acceptable to still do it. Add to that that a lot of formal qualifications don’t necessarily teach the ‘fun’ side of computing and it seems inevitable that numbers of girls are going to drop off!

by Nicole Ponsford