Well, it starts in school.
This is something near and dear to my heart. There are several things I experienced as a high school Computer Science teacher that can help us explore this and learn.In education, technology and CS courses have typically been basically boys clubs. That is who led them, who joined them, who planned activities, who planned the learning, and who they recruited. Diversity of any kind was never a consideration.
Computer Science programs which are designed by hard core techies are designed only to attract other hard core techies, and this is where our stereotypes came from. But what about students who are not already a ‘hard core techy?’ Is there any chance to find their new passion? Yes, if we design CS programs with non-techies in mind. The better CS program will be the ones who target these students, then a strong program develops those same students into technology-minded students will rock solid skills.
How can we change this?Creating learning environments that are attractive to females as well as males. When a girl walks by a Computer Science classroom, she needs to see people in there she can related to, otherwise she walks on by even if she might have been interested. And even take it one step further, reach out to those girls, invite them in, help them connect. Make sure the classroom climate is welcoming to females,recognize them, give them chances to be leaders in class, tell them directly when you see good work, don’t let boys “come to the rescue” of the girls, Zoom with females in industry, teachers use examples and stories with females in leadership roles, and make sure the boys are aware when there is awesomeness happening by some of the girls in class. Talk publicly about how technology needs women, tell them about the status quo and how this is not ok. Ask them if it ok that women are not involved in research, design, implementation, sales, support of technology, both software or hardware. Shouldn’t the people making the technology look like the people using it? Make sure on your classroom walls are pictures of women in tech, posters with diversity represented, and articles supporting this. The projects you use in class need to be attractive to all genders not just boys. How do you do this? Open-ended projects that have real meaning. This is where project-based learning can be especially powerful. Technical skills can be learned through any context, and what better opportunity to let student learn new skills while pursuing topics and issues they love. Let the project be about real problems and issues in the world around them. We found that students have a lot to say, and want to express themselves, but are never really given that opportunity. Computer Science offers so many cool options for expression such as apps, websites, games, and digital devices such as robotics. Students connecting to the project is essential to students learning the skills needed to complete the project.
There are organizations such as NCWIT, National Council for Women in Technology, whose sole motivation is to help promote and encourage girls in technology. Encourage your girls to engage with NCWIT.
But does this approach really work?
I remember walking into my first CS classroom and there were 5 white boys. I asked, “where are the girls?” So, that became my mission. By the time I left, we had increased our enrollment of women to over 50%, including diversity in color, religion, and life style. Our school had more girls recognized by NCWIT than any other school in SC. And as they made their way into business, the girls were finding their way to the tech worlds at Google, NASA, Honeywell, Meta, and Microsoft.
If this is of interest to you, here are some other articles I have written on the topic
- Girls in CS Why it matters
- We need as many Computer Science minors as we need Computer Science majors.
- NCWIT Aspirations in Computing
- Girls in Computer Science
Webinar presentation I made on this topic
If you really want to dive deep – I wrote a book about how to create a Computer Science program as described above.
Here is where you get can get it on Amazon