How Do We Keep Our Young Talent Stream Engaged with Technology?
Engaging young people, especially girls, with tech education and STEM subjects is absolutely crucial. Over the pandemic situation, we’ve come to rely on technology like never before. But with gender bias around school subjects appearing as early as key stage two, how do we ensure our girls know that there are fun, exciting opportunities in tech for them?
Challenges for Girls in Tech
One of the biggest challenges girls interested in tech and STEM subjects face is the continuing perception that certain subjects or careers are “just for boys”. These include, but aren’t limited to:
· Video game production
· Computer sciences
· IT professions
WISE, an organisation that campaigns for gender balance within STEM careers, is currently celebrating #1ofTheMillion. This is a hashtag that celebrates that there are now 1 million women working in core stem professions in the U.K. That’s still just 24% of the workforce, showing that there is still further to go. However, it’s important to note that over the past decade, there have been some massive steps towards a better balance of gender in the workplace.
There are double the number of women in engineering roles that there were in 2010.
The percentage of women in STEM roles rose from 23.4% to 24.2% between 2019 and 2020.
Women in science roles now make up 46.4% of the science professional workforce.
These are good news stories that need to be celebrated. Not just to cheer on the women in tech and STEM roles making those strides, but to inspire our younger generation. How can we enthuse our girls in STEM best?
Girls in STEM in the Media
One way is to encourage the media, particularly the mainstream media, to run more stories on the massive achievements made by women in STEM roles. Influencing what stories get in the news is tough — and certainly a distraction from working towards a successful STEM career! As parents, one thing you can do is be on the lookout for those good news stories to share with your kids — whatever their gender. Boys who learn that women and girls in tech do great things every day are more likely to either drop or never develop harmful gender biases. They’re also more likely to take on role models who share a gender-balanced view.
Another thing you can do is to call media outlets out when they get things wrong, or when obvious stories are missing. Whether you do this by commenting on social media or by writing to the editor of a national paper, it all has an impact.
It’s great to see that in 2021, stories about breaking the stereotypes around women in physics are appearing in mainstream media. It’s also notable that the diversity of the team behind Mars Rover Perseverance got some headlines, including shoutouts for the many women who made the mission possible.
Tech Companies and their Responsibilities
Many tech companies are starting to understand that not only is it morally and ethically just to work towards gender balance, but women are a vastly underused resource because they’re often overlooked. It’s literally poor business sense for companies to write off half the available workforce, simply due to outdated preconceptions that have no basis in reality.
Look out for tech companies taking on young ambassadors, or supporting STEM programmes in school or within local communities. These are the companies that need shouting about and celebrating.
STEM Education for Girls
In theory, school education is the same for all kids, regardless of gender. In practice, some subjects are picked up more enthusiastically by boys, simply because of the societal bias that still remains attaching STEM and technology to boys and men.
What we need is fantastic teachers and other school staff who notice when gender bias is taking hold, and address it head-on. Perhaps there’s an after-school science club, and only one girl signs up. If that girl feels like she’s being singled out or, worse, ignored during that group session, she’s unlikely to go again. However, if the person leading that group makes sure that everyone is included, and everyone has a chance to do something fun and engaging, that girl is more likely to go tell her friends what a great time she had. Some of those friends may also be girls, and they might give it a go, too.
Too often, educational settings inadvertently reinforce gender stereotypes by simply failing to nurture the interest in a particular subject. Coding clubs, Minecraft groups, and other STEM extracurricular events used to be overwhelmingly attended by boys. That’s changing, a major part of which is thanks to pioneering groups and individuals who understand the power of peer-to-peer learning. Workshops that make girls feel welcome and empower them to create and innovate are a priceless resource to ensure our kids stay engaged with technology.
February 2021 saw the celebration of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. With the right education, the right media exposure, and fun, engaging workshops, we hope that today’s technology-enthused girls will be the Women in Tech of tomorrow. After all, to paraphrase the UN, this world needs STEM, and STEM needs women and girls.