Women make up half of the world’s population, but are a clear minority when it comes to the world of science, technology, mathematics and engineering. For example, in Aalto University, women made up only 12% of the students admitted to the undergraduate program of Computer Science in 2016. There have not been many signs of improvement over the years, which speaks to the fact that the causes of this phenomenon are deeply rooted in societal structures and that there is much more work to be done.
Innately, girls and boys are equally equipped to learn and apply STEM. The wide gender gap that troubles these disciplines is alarming because tech knowledge and skills are increasingly important in today’s world. It is only just that girls have equal access to the know-how that provides them with the power to understand, navigate and influence our technology-centered society. Bridging the gap and empowering girls both figuratively and literally is why CodeBus Africa is committed to have at least half of the participants in any workshop be girls.
The society is riddled with gender roles and stereotypes that deem STEM as masculine and consequently unfit for girls. Additionally, STEM fields are seen as uncool and antisocial – and the popular opinion is that girls must be social. According to research, girls, more often than boys, base their self-esteem on their social life as opposed to academic achievements.
These ideas underlie our culture and all of its aspects, starting with something as fundamental as language. They are actively maintained and pushed for by the media, where there is insufficient representation of women in tech. Furthermore, the little representation that exists is often unfavorable, depicting female techies as awkward or unattractive. For girls to see technology as a viable path to pursue, they need to believe that it is not only possible for them, but a desirable option as well.
Encouraging girls to seek education and even a career in technology starts with providing a fun and experiential touch point to it. For example, creative technology is an approachable, engaging and rewarding way of learning technological concepts and gaining technological self-confidence. The CodeBus workshop curriculum is based on these ideas, making music a low-threshold entryway to the world of code.
To further break misconceptions about technology being dull or non-collaborative, efforts should be made to highlight the vast and multidisciplinary life opportunities that technological education unlocks. It is important to provide concrete and comprehensible examples of ways in which one can help benefit the society through technology.
It is also highly important to lift up charismatic women in tech as role models: the inspiration and guidance they provide is instrumental in motivating more girls to delve into technology. By setting the example that girls, too, can be successful in technology fields, we can broaden what they see as possible alternatives for themselves.
Reminding girls of their potential on a personal level is not to be forgotten. Receiving words of encouragement from others can have a positive impact on how girls feel about going into technology – even to the extent of making or breaking whether a girl ends up seeking an education in tech.
Interested to learn more about the topic? Check out these articles:
How Harvey Mudd College went from 10% to 40% women in Computer Science in 5 years
Why STEM’s future rests in the hands of 12-year-old girls