I was delighted to join Kim Wilkins (@kimxtom @TeenTechGirls) and Carrie Anne Philbin (@MissPhilbin @GeekGurlDiaries) in presenting a session in the Global Education Conference this week. The week-long online conference is an inspiring model of openness and collaboration, with presenters and participants from across the globe — mostly students and educators, but open to all.
In our session Geek Gurl Diaries: Empowering the Next Generation of Women in Tech we explored the gender gap in computing and technology and shared our experiences and best practices in promoting and changing science, engineering and computer studies to address this gap. Click the link above to view the session (then just click the purple Blackboard Collaborate icon to view). The presentation slides are below:
Kim Wilkins and Carrie Anne Philbin are quite inspiring tech women themselves! Kim is an educator and technology activist in Virginia (USA) and creator of these excellent Tech Girl resources. You can subscribe to Kim’s Tech Girl newsletter for regular updates.
Carrie Anne is a teacher and digital heroine in London and creator of these excellent Geek Gurl resources — Carrie’s wonderful YouTube videos are well worth sharing with girls.
I joined Kim and Carrie Anne by speaking about girls and women in technology here in Ireland and highlighting some important research on gender and technology. A few key themes emerged in our session:
- The underrepresentation of women in technology has been remarkably persistent over time and across countries. The current proportion of women undergraduates in computing, for example, is 15% in Ireland and the UK, under 20% in the US. Although the proportion of women studying computing and IT was higher in the 1980s and 1990s, computing and IT are now in the same category as other STEM subjects such as engineering and physics in which women are dramatically underrepresented.
- Attitudes toward computing and many STEM subjects are highly gendered. Kim Wilkins cited studies from the US which show that girls form positive or negative attitudes towards technology by age 13. Thus, initiatives to break down gender barriers must be in place in primary school and early secondary school, not just at career choice time.
- Computing — as well as a focus on creating not consuming technology — should be part of education from primary school onwards. But it is not just in school that such initiatives can take place. Local community initiatives such as Coder Dojo, coding clubs for young people, can be powerful opportunities for children to develop coding skills as well as breaking down traditional gender stereotypes about technology. The open, collaborative and peer learning ethos of Coder Dojo attracts many girls as well as boys, as well as many female mentors.
- Long-standing research in the area of gender and technology indicates that while encouraging girls and women to consider careers in computing and technology is important, it is not enough. Initiatives to encourage girls to study STEM subjects have been in place for many years — and still just 15-20% of our undergraduates in these subjects are female. The social construction of STEM itself must be placed under scrutiny. Thus, efforts to address the underrepresentation of women in computing and STEM must include breaking down gender sterotypes held by girls and boys and creating a more inclusive STEM culture which encourages diversity of participation by age, class and race as well as gender.
Our thanks to all of the #globaled12 session participants with whom we engaged in a lively chat session both during and after our presentation. We would love to continue the conversations and develop further collaborations — please contact Kim Wilkins, Carrie Anne Philbin and/or myself (details above).
Marder, J. (2012, April 25). Why the engineering, computer science gender gap persists. Scientific American.
Varma, R. (2007). Women in computing: The role of geek culture. Science as Culture, 16, 4, 359-376.
Cronin, C. and Roger, A. (1999). Theorising progress: Women in science, engineering and technology in higher education. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 36 (6) pp. 637-661.