Getting Girls into Tech

By Bethany Spencer on May, 4 2017

We are more connected than ever thanks to the likes of Facebook and Skype‭, ‬and continue to develop digital solutions to streamline our lives‭. ‬Advances in computer technologies have opened up new worlds of possibility‭, ‬and there have never been more opportunities for programmers who are looking to build the next big thing‭. 

‬However‭, ‬if we don’t encourage more girls to get into coding‭, ‬most of the programmers who will go on to shape our world will be men‭.‬

And the gap’s not just in coding‭.‬

Women are under-represented in STEM‭ (‬Science‭, ‬Technology‭, ‬Engineering and Maths‭) ‬sectors generally‭, ‬making up only 12.8%‭ ‬of the‭ ‬work force‭. ‬Yet in STEM subjects up to GCSE level‭, ‬the gender-split is almost 50:50‭. ‬After this point‭, ‬the majority of students‭ ‬taking these subjects are male‭, ‬even though girls perform better than boys at GCSE and A Level‭.‬

Why aren’t more girls getting into technology‭?

The problem may come down to our expectations of what we’re good at‭. ‬In an experiment carried out by Shelley Correll at Cornell University‭, ‬mixed gender participants were asked to take‭ ‬a contrast sensitivity test to which there were no right or wrong answers‭. ‬

The point of the test was to measure how well participants thought they had performed‭. ‬Some were told that men tended to do better at the test‭, ‬the others that there was no difference between genders‭. ‬They were all given the same scores and then asked to assess how well they did‭. ‬Male participants who were told that men performed better than average generally said that they had done better than women who were told the same‭. ‬

Amongst participants who were told there was no difference in gender‭, ‬there was no difference in their self-assessments‭. ‬When female participants thought that they were at a disadvantage‭, ‬they judged their performance more harshly‭. ‬When they weren’t‭, ‬they judged their performance similarly to the men‭. ‬Correll’s study shows that negative stereotypes have a direct impact on our belief in our abilities and‭, ‬in turn‭, ‬influence our behaviour‭.‬

So how can we promote STEM subjects in school‭?‬

Celebrate more women in tech

STEM subjects have been historically perceived as male subjects due to stereotypes‭. ‬Part of the reason for this is that women in‭ ‬STEM aren’t celebrated as widely as their male counterparts‭. ‬

Everyone knows about Einstein‭, ‬Steve Jobs‭, ‬and Mark Zuckerberg‭, ‬less people know about Ada Lovelace‭ (‬acknowledged as the world’s first programmer‭), ‬Bessie Coleman‭ (‬the first African-American female pilot‭), ‬and Hedy Lamarr who‭, ‬in addition to being a movie‭ ‬star in the 30s and 40s‭, ‬built a communications system which paved the way for the likes of Bluetooth and WiFi‭. ‬

There are countless female role-models for girls who might be interested in pursuing STEM subjects‭. ‬Sharing their stories and celebrating their achievements can inspire the next generation of female pioneers‭. ‬

As a fun class activity‭, ‬why not ask students to bring in example of a great STEM leader we don’t usually hear about and give a brief summary of their achievements‭?‬

Promote STEM programmes to your female students

There’s been a huge push recently to get girls involved in tech‭, ‬but unless your students already have an active interest in STEM subjects‭, ‬they may not know these are available to them‭. ‬Promoting these to your students can be the difference between them pursuing these subjects and not‭. ‬

There have been a number of initiatives started to support women and girls to seek out opportunities in tech‭. ‬National Grid and‭ ‬VEX Robotics recently teamed up to get‭ ‬‘Girls into STEM’‭, ‬with grants offered to all girl teams from primary and secondary schools across the country to compete in the VEX IQ Challenge‭ ‬or the VEX Robotics Competition‭. ‬

Stemettes‭, ‬set up by Anne-Marie Imafidon‭, ‬encourages girls to engage with STEM subjects through panel events‭, ‬hackathons‭, ‬exhibitions‭, ‬and mentoring schemes‭. ‬Project Ada‭ (‬named after Ada Lovelace‭) ‬is a site which covers news‭, ‬opinion‭, ‬and features on women and gender equality in technology‭. ‬Learning about the free resources and funded opportunities that are out there will enable schools to champion girls in these areas‭. ‬

Set-up your own STEM Club‭ ‬

As well as exploring initiatives and organisations that promote girls in tech‭, ‬schools can start STEM clubs to foster a positive‭ ‬environment where girls can learn about STEM outside of the classroom‭.‬

At most schools there are a lot of extra-curricular sport‭, ‬music‭, ‬and drama groups‭. ‬A STEM group could be the perfect way to show your students that learning about science and technology can be fun‭. ‬It’s also a great way to promote good relationships between students and staff and‭, ‬if teachers from different STEM areas get on board‭, ‬a way to promote good relationships across departments‭. ‬

Another reason to consider starting a STEM club is that it could help build confidence in students‭. ‬Students can be encouraged to pursue STEM through positive reinforcement‭, ‬for example‭, ‬by recognising their achievements through award schemes‭, ‬or by taking‭ ‬part in competitions or fairs‭.‬

Shaping attitudes‭, ‬shaping the future

Our perceptions of our own abilities and our prejudices about certain jobs shape our behaviour‭. ‬In order for girls to gain confidence in STEM areas there needs to be a shift away from outdated attitudes that these subjects are for boys‭.‬

To stop the post-GSCE drop off‭, ‬we need to try to combat stereotypes that boys are better at STEM subjects‭. ‬We need to show that‭ ‬engaging with technology at an early age may lead to careers that they never even thought about‭. ‬As traditional jobs are replaced by digital equivalents and exciting new fields emerge‭, ‬there has never been a better time to get girls involved‭.‬

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