When you look at the field of technology many are keen to point out the lack of women. However when it comes to discussing how to get more women involved in technology those same people run into a problem. While the answer to the lack of women may seem to be “simply hire more women,” what happens when there aren’t enough women coming out of college with technical degrees? According to a report from NCWIT, women hold only 25% of technology occupations. If we really want to grow the number of women in technology we need to start early and get girls interested in technology. At Grace Hopper I attended several sessions regarding this exact issue and through these, as well as the experiences of my peers and myself, I found three ABC’s of getting girls to love technology.
A is for appealing to the way girls play
Debbie Sterling, CEO of GoldieBlox, gave a keynote at the conference describing the founding of her company on the idea that engineering toys are for girls as well as boys. When creating toys for young girls, Sterling first compared how girls played versus how boys played, especially with engineering toys-like blocks. She noticed a very important difference in the way these two groups played with the blocks. While boys created large structures and then knocked them down, girls created a story and used the blocks to build the parts of their stories. Knowing this, GoldieBlox creates toys that use engineering or building within the context of a story. By designing toys, games, or recreational activities in the ways girls want to play, we can engage girls in technology at a much earlier age. Early introduction to technology and engineering can foster an interest, so when it comes time to pick college majors, electives, internships and jobs, more girls consider and choose technology. While toys can spark interest, we still need ways to gear learning experiences to girls, which brings us to B.
B is for building programs around girls
I also attended a workshop on a robotics programs for children, girls in particular. During the workshop each table group built a robot to simulate how a robotics program might work. Upon completion, tables and groups discussed how we would implement something similar for girls in elementary, middle, and high school. Programs like these can give girls a chance to learn and apply their interests while having an educational experience in the world of technology. These programs can also help grow girls’ confidence and disregard social pressures to avoid activities typically viewed as ‘for boys’. Starting and developing programs like these throughout the K-12 years in school can transition an interest in technology into an actual field of study in college and a career later in life. While robotics is one program example, there are many different ways to get girls invested in technology, which brings us to C.
C is for creativity and infusing creativity in programs
Variety and creativity are important in education programs intended to grow a passion for technology with girls. One example I saw of this at the conference was in a session on paper circuits. The session focused on laying down circuits on paper as well as incorporating lights into artwork or craft ideas. When the presenters were discussing their product, they revealed a lot of their customers were women using these for creative purposes. This caused me think about more creative ways to introduce technology to young girls, including incorporating artwork into technology. By using technology in new and innovative ways, girls can see how to incorporate their unique interests into a career in technology and make it their own.
With these ABC’s we can start developing young women with an interest in technology, and in the coming years even see a surge in women in computing. By starting early, I hope in a few years we might see more equal numbers of men and women in computing.