Thanks to Intel for inviting me here to the Girls in Tech event to talk about how we inspire girls to get involved in technology. It’s something I’m passionate about so it’s a delight to be here. I’ll keep updating this page so refresh for updates.
Our host begins by talking about the history of women in technology and she notes that Ada Lovelace saw technology as a combination of arts and science. The first coders were women. As programmers in WWII, women were chosen as programmers because they were considered patient and great problem solvers. But from 1984, when women were 40% of programmers, the number of women in tech has steadily declined. An entire generation of women are missing out on the digital economy.
Kate Burleigh, MD of Intel begins, saying that it’s crucial to encourage girls aged 5-12 to get in to tech. It’s where opinions are formed. From Intel’s perspective, the reason why they are involved in these programs because women use tech as much as men, and because problem solving is more effective when people work together – women and me. If we have more women in roles solving problems collectively, we could potentially solve problems of the world much more effectively.
Kate notes her own history in the tech industry. She isn’t an engineer, but (like me!) she played with LEGO and train sets. She was a maker but she didn’t know it.
Kate notes that as girls become teens there are so many other influences that can distract girls from STEM. Kate’s only history was in humanities at university and a job at Red Cross. Then she moved to Dick Smith at the time when the desktop revolution began. She ran the computer club there, teaching people how to use tech. Eventually her interest in tech brought her to Intel.
She notes that you can be creative with technology. You can solve problems with tech. Environmental, agricultural, social and communication problems can all be tackled with sufficient understanding of the technologies who cn help solve the intractable issues facing the world.
And you can get paid well to do this! Tech is potentially a well-paid industry, so women can earn more and the pay gap between men and women could be addressed with more women in tech.
Women with tech skills are also in high demand. We have a shortage of people with skills in tech, so women will also be well received in the industry. Tech skills opens up opportunities in numerous industries.
Kate notes that there is a new paper on Girls in Tech that is available for attendees at the event as well as people who may be interested.
Karsten and Bronwyn introduce the Female Participation in School Computing – Reversing the Trend report. Girls participation is high up to Year 8 and then drops like a stone. By Year 11 & 12 goes down to less than 20%.
There are four findings from the report:
- There’s a need for scaffolding through the Digital Technologies Curriculum
- Parental preconceptions and influences are affecting participation
- There need to be more roles ad mentors for girls
- Digital technology activities exclusively for girls need to be run to enourage more female participation throughout the education process.
To address these findings the report recommended that there be more career oriented projects to encourage a connection between STEM and career. There is also a need for greater integration in to the curriculum. Particularly from Year 7, digital technologies in the curriculum encourages girls to be part of the mainstream – not so different. Teachers need guidance – something Code Club Australia is doing – and there needs to be more programmes that upskill teachers.
The panel also discuss the issue of parents – particularly mothers – telling their daughters that they don’t expect them to perform well in maths and science, because they didn’t perform well in these areas, or telling their daughters to wait for their fathers to help them with maths homework. This is extremely damaging. And teachers who tell girls that certain subjects are “boys’ subjects” are also hurting the development of women in STEM.
The next panel is up with Sarah Moran, Cathie Howe, Karsten Schulz and and Felicity Fury. Sarah starts by saying that she wanted to encourage girls with the girl geek academy to feel excited by tech. Felicity notes that her career in engineering came from developing an understanding of problem solving. Cathie notes that in her program, that we need to start early with tech and design and we’ll see a turnaround in numbers. She notes in her programme – which covers VR and robotics, design projects, etc. – that as soon as you get the kids involved, they just run with it. The problem is when kids get to high school and the curriculum starts to distract and direct girls away from STEM.
Karsten notes that careers in STEM don’t have to involve ’employment’. Many girls coming out of STEM based learning at university will start their own businesses. Sarah notes that girls also need to have networks and friends to support each other. Cathie notes we need to teach more risk in education.
Karsten notes that Australia’s lack of collaboration with industry in research is a potential block to getting girls in to tech research.
There is a problem with the testing – from NAPLAN to the HSC – and there needs to be more creative assessment.
Joe Cohen introduces the next panel – teachers and students talking about the experiences of teaching tech. Sunny South from Sydney Secondary College at Leichardt notes that when girls are a minority groups, there needs to be extra support. Zeina Chalich notes that at her school the children recognise that girls are thinking differently from boys – that boys are seeking the advice of girls. Sunny notes that images of engineers are exclusively men. That doesn’t help girls to be enthusiastic about adopting engineering. Abi Woldhuis notes that teaching resilience, and lifelong learning can also help to transform the attitude toward technology and problem solving.
Sunny South said she came up with a programme called Girls Make. She said that feminising the experience can help to develop a sense of ownership and community. Zeina Chalich notes that opening up programmes to parents and the community can help educate the parents about the value of their maker skills. A young student, Luna, talks about taking tech apart and to rebuild it. She also talks about her design projects integrating microprocessors into clothing. She says her parents – both working in IT – are a huge support and inspiration. She wants to be an engineer so she can solve problems.
Zeina says teachers need to feel comfortable about learning alongside their students. This will be respected by students. Sunny says to be brave and to try – facilitate access to tech and then to play. Girls need he space, opportunity, equipment and encouragement. Abi says that giving badges and labels that encourage bravado can help spread the message. She says people need to find mentors, and to encourage parents to be part of the creative process.
Zeina notes that workplaces have to be open to women in tech spending some time in schools – particularly maker spaces – to help translate for students, how their careers can develop.
A teacher notes that the goal should be for teachers to push STEM – the current curriculum only trains kids for the 1980s.
The event closes – a great afternoon of some fabulous ideas and experiences in STEM. Thanks Intel.