Women have an uphill struggle when it comes to coding. It has nothing to do with their actual ability to code, but rather with all the stereotypes about female coders. See, for example, Barbie’s latest misadventure: “I Can Be A Computer Engineer,” published by Random House.
Barbie is featured in the book as a “computer engineer” who breaks every computer she touches and doesn’t know how to code. She creates the design ideas for her cute robot puppy game, but needs “Steven’s and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game!”
Europe’s ICT sector represents over 12 million jobs, yet women account for less than 20% of employees in ICT-based careers. The situation is getting worse; in 1998, 25% of computer graduates in the EU were women, but by 2006 that number had fallen to only 22%. This compares with 38% in South Korea and 28% in the United States – both countries renowned for their high-tech sectors.
As part of our Debating Europe Schools project, we had a question sent in by Vasilis, a student from Greece. He asked how we can subvert stereotypes and encourage more female students in Europe to study coding. We put this question to Mercedes Diaz, an ICT consultant and EU Code Ambassador for Belgium:
We also put the same question to Steve Clement, a professional hacker and EU CodeWeek Ambassador for Luxembourg, to see how he would respond:
Finally, we asked for a response from Yasemin Allsop, Senior Lecturer in Primary Computing and ICT at Manchester Metropolitan University, and EU Code Ambassador for the United Kingdom. What would she say?
I think the best way of involving girls in coding is by having coding as part of the school curriculum. That will give them the opportunity to try it out and see how it works, and decide if they want to take it further. If we only leave it as an extra-curricula activity at computing clubs, then girls may not come at all, but if it is in the curriculum then at least they will have an opportunity to try it out, and I think that is the best way.
Then, of course, involving all those wonderful women who are involved in technology and coding activities would be very useful as well. We’ve got amazing women working as game developers, software engineers, etc. We need to highlight them more, so girls can see this is not just for boys – it’s for anyone!
How can we get more girls to code in Europe? What’s the best way to subvert the stereotype that only men can code? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions!