BRIDGING THE GAP: WOMEN AND CODE
Nov 24, 2016
In the UK, women hold just 15% of the IT positions in the country, and this statistic has remained largely unchanged for the last 10 years and is mirrored worldwide.
In June 2014, Google announced – with a media-savvy, girl-power campaign – its “Made with Code” program: an investment of US$50 million into initiatives that encourage girls to learn to code, by making bracelets and accessorising selfies. Is this the answer or is it something simpler and let’s face it, less “girly”? I spoke to two female coders and asked them what they think can be done.
Don’t be put off by being different.
Sheree Atcheson is the founder of “Women Who Code” UK (Belfast, London and Bristol). A software engineer for Kainos Software, she aims to eradicate the gender bias in the IT industry by creating “tech havens” for women.
Why Computer Science Sheree?
Since an early age, I was bashing together HTML and making websites (about my dogs). I’ve always had an interest in “making things”, so making things about my dogs, which was my other love, was a win-win situation. From there, I chose GCSE ICT where I realised I wasn’t happy just using the software. I wanted to make.
In your opinion, how can the gender gap be bridged in your industry?
I founded WWC UK in September 2013. I founded it for a number of reasons: I am a software engineer (with a computer science degree), so the gender divide is something that has always obvious to me. But more recently, when working at Kainos CodeCamp; which is an amazing free 2-week long course that aims to teach teens about Android App development and what it’s really like to work in IT, I noticed there was a substantial lack of girls.
It was only then I realised how many generations of young girls we have missed out on. The young girls who have never considered a career in IT because they thought there was no place for them there and that it was a “man’s game”. Because of this, I wanted to do something about it.
You obviously care deeply about equal representations of the genders in the industry. What’s your ideal solution?
There is no set answer for this. We need to target young girls and educate them from a young age on the possibility of working in IT. Yes, not all of them will choose the career, but shouldn’t they have a choice?
In 2014, 245 girls took Computing for A-Level versus 3515 boys. Just think how many young girls who we’ve missed out on, who could have been very talented in this industry.
What advice do you have for any young people considering a career in technology?
Don’t be put off by being different. Yes, all of your friends might not be interested and yes, they might think it’s stupid. But, you know what’s not stupid? Having a lucrative career that gives you the possibility of earning a lot of money. Starting coding early on means you gain the basic understanding of thinking logically and that means that when you tackle bigger coding problems at GCSE, A-Levels, and University, the hurdle is substantially minimised.
Check if there is a local CoderDojo or YoungRewiredState centre. If there isn’t ask a parent to help. Look up online tutorials. There are lots of great resources out there for all levels of expertise. Check out Scratch, Codemonkey, Codeacademy and Pluralsight.
Rather than going the extra mile to find a gender gap and complain about it, we should focus on inspiring young kids, both girls and boys and seeing what comes of it”
Thanks, Sheree and finally, what is it about coding that excites you?
The ability to create anything.
Paula Clerkin is a 3rd year Computer Science with Artificial Intelligence student at the University of Nottingham.
Paula, why computer science?
I’ve had my heart set on doing Comp Sci ever since I can remember. When I was young, I played SIMS a lot. I got really, really into it and I would change variables in the code and import edited Paint files so that I had crazy things like bright pink people and men having alien babies. I never really understood what Comp Sci was but I knew that it was to do with the code that I was messing around with.
Given that you’re currently in the UK Education system, is enough being done to support girls and encourage girls into Computer Science?
I know that the curriculum is changing and computing is being taught earlier, which is definitely a step in the right direction. I think that there should be more after school programming clubs like Code Club. I’m a Code Club volunteer and one thing I noticed when talking to the kids is that they didn’t know how to do this at home. If kids are familiar and competent with school computers, why limit their exposure to them only during lesson time. Kids should be able to use the school computers as not all of them are fortunate enough to have access to those resources at home.
So, in your opinion, how can the gender gap be bridged?
I’ve read a few blogs of women in tech and it’s always made me feel uncomfortable. I feel like if you seek to make a big deal out of it, the more noticeable it will be. This to me is the wrong approach. Rather than going the extra mile to find a gender gap and complain about it, we should focus on inspiring young kids, both girls and boys and seeing what comes of it.
The gender gap is being bridged slowly and naturally, there’s no need to go about it heavy-handedly. I see on University open days that there are so many more girls in attendance and these are girls that know their stuff.
And Paula, what is it about coding that excites you?
How the possibilities are endless.
Find out more about Women Who Code UK at www.womenwhocode.co.uk.
Find out more about Code Club at www.codeclub.org.uk
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