Cracking the code of getting girls into tech
Despite it being something that most people are aware of, the statistics around the lack of women in the tech industry still make for shocking reading. Outnumbered 4:1, women make up only 19 per cent of the UK tech workforce and occupy 5 per cent of the industry’s leadership roles.
Is there any wonder girls and young women struggle to envision themselves in tech careers – their role models aren’t getting the exposure they deserve, and there’s nowhere near enough of them.
I had 20-plus years as a software developer and worked with three female programmers the entire time. Sure, times have changed, but in 2017, 78 per cent of students still couldn’t name a famous female working in tech – versus the 66 per cent who could name a man.
STEM subjects have been pushed in secondary schools for the last 10 years or more – so why aren’t we seeing more women in STEM roles?
It’s a problem that isn’t going away, unless we continue to talk about it and take steps to encourage women into the sector – of all ages. That’s something that now, with Code Ninjas, I’m especially passionate about.
Often, young girls’ only exposure to the industry is passive consumption of content, or during lessons in later school life. I firmly believe that the key to getting girls into tech, is introducing them to it when they’re much younger and by it being fun.
I think what we’re seeing in our coding centres (known as Dojos) is proof of that. We’ve got over 150 Code Ninjas Dojos in North America and girls make up 40 per cent of all students. We’re about to open our first centre in London - and we’re expecting to replicate that trend across the UK.
Code Ninjas isn’t about encouraging girls into coding – it’s about encouraging all kids equally. Again, something I think the education system, and the industry itself, hasn’t been getting right up to this point. What we do differently is make classes fun and introduce kids to coding and STEM activities early – that’s where the magic happens. Fun is the key.
Don’t just take my word for it. Dr Martha Burns – a leading neuroscientist and expert on how children learn – says that dopamine plays a crucial part in learning and retaining information. And we all know that dopamine is the fun chemical!
Dr Burns refers to dopamine as the brain’s ‘save button’. She says that the regions of our brain which increase motivation and interest in activities are in fact activated by dopamine. The more dopamine is released, the more motivated we are and the better we remember things. Essentially, kids are more likely to remember what they’ve learnt if they have fun doing it.
Everything about Code Ninjas is built around fun. Kids aged seven to 14 learn how to code by building video games, robotics and drones. Our centres are called Dojos, teachers are called Senseis and our little Ninjas progress through a game-based curriculum made up of nine belts – just like martial arts.
It’s about the experience and couldn’t be further from the lessons that children generally associate with school. We keep things exciting and get that all-important dopamine flowing with little wins along the way and ‘belt-up’ celebrations where kids receive color-coded wristbands to mark their graduation to the next level. As well as coding, children gain the complimentary skills - logic, problem-solving and teamwork - required for the jobs of the future.
A Women in Tech study by PwC in 2017 found that due to a lack of interest, teachers not making the subjects appealing and being better at humanities or other essay-based subjects, young girls are less likely than boys to study STEM subjects at school. This continues at university. The culminating effect is that only 3 per cent of female students consider tech as a career of choice.
I’m not suggesting that the introduction of Code Ninjas alone is suddenly going to see a generation of girls streaming into the industry. But programmes like ours will improve the chances that when itcomes to making choices based on interests – and being able to see a future career - girls will be just as likely to choose tech as their male counterparts.