Making, Science, Tech and Girls
When we attended the CoderDojo Pavia’s Dojo two weeks ago, we had the pleasure of seeing that there were quite a number of girls attending.
This we noticed with particular satisfaction as we know that the technology gap between boys and girls is still wide, and fostered by education, toys and mentality that prevent many girls from going techie.
If you’re a girl in a male dominated world you’ll notice it immediately, and the STEM (that is Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths world) is clearly lacking women in its workforce. According to a report issued in January 2015 by the International Federation of University Women, today only the 12% of the global engineering workforce is female. According to UNESCO, only 30% of all science researchers in the world are women1.
Maybe surprisingly to some, Latin America and the Caribbean have the highest proportion of female researchers, accounting for 45,2% of the total researchers. Asia, on the other hand, has the largest gender gap in this area: 18.9% only of women participation in this field.
The disappointing data is that in some countries, like the US, there are signs of regression in terms of women in the STEM fields: 37% of computer science degree holders were women in 1985, and they were only 18% in 2013.
The giants in technology, Google, Apple and Twitter, each report that women account for 30% of total staff, while Facebook and LinkedIn show a marginal increase at 31% and 39% respectively2.
And if you look at the more senior roles, you’ll notice that women are even less in percentage than at lower levels. Only 6% of the CEOs at the top 100 technical companies are women.
These are not only gender oriented considerations, but they also have heavy economic implications for countries: Europe alone is going towards a deficit in work force of 24 millions within 2040, if female participation in the workforce doesn’t improve. Plus, productivity would be higher if more women brought their input to the diversity of ideas necessary for innovation, something that is vital and crucial in the male-dominated STEM fields.
What can we do to bring girls nearer the technology world? We can teach them that they CAN be good at technology and build projects and toys that they can appreciate, that is, we can encourage them from when they’re very young in undertaking an active role in funny, girl friendly games biased towards the STEM fields: teach them that science, technology and coding are funny, too, and not an exclusively boys’ thing.
a company aiming at giving girls more than princesses and dolls and at having strong women in the future, with more awareness.
As a matter of fact, in some areas a number of people are working towards changing this reality. At the Dojo held by CoderDojo Pavia we saw quite a few teen girls coding with their Arduinos. Some project around the world are trying to attract more moms and girls towards technology and science: see for example Tech D.I.Y. and their projects aimed at mothers and kids learning electronics and design with creativity: sewing circuits projects, magic lamps with tilt sensors, a super Ipod pillow, moonlit flowers and so on.
The next Maker Faire Bay Area, on May 16-17, 2015, will host some initiatives aimed at attracting girls and women towards some Making, involving LEDs, sewing, circuitry, Arduino, and more. Some of the projects are described in MAKE magazine.
Of course there are also educational programs, e.g. www.girlsteachinggirlstocode.org made available by young or older women to women in high schools, in various parts of the world. But the projects we described above, and people like Tenaya Hurst, Linino and Arduino Woman, with her creativity in wearables
and her Arduweenie,
are really trying to attract girls when they’re still very young and influenced by the usual pink-princess-beauty ideas permeating the majority of the cultures. Without denying the specificity of being a female human being, they’re trying to give girls a wider range of opportunities in their studies and development, so that they can freely choose what they’d like to study and work with, without prejudices.
In Italy one project is expanding from its initial area to a wider region: Girlscodeitbetter
Going back to toys, Action Heroes aren’t just for boys anymore: Hasbro, after the historical Arcee, the only fembot dating back to the ‘80s, had added to its Transformers toys range Windblade, whose traits had been determined with the help of fans through polls.
But USAToday has revealed that the winner of Hasbro’s fan-built bot contest will be comprised of six fembots and be called Victorion. This means that there will be six new female Transformers toys, which will also combine into a giant female robot to go toe-to-toe against the big boys. They’ll be also part of the comics’ characters: Combiner Hunters.
What does this have to do with girls and STEMS? Transformers are technical toys, they change in shape, sometimes in a difficult manner, and stimulate the process of making with one’s hands and of rebuilding something to change its shape, therefore we appreciate that these toys are now geared more to a girls’ public.
Hoping that today’s young makers will become tomorrow’s women in STEM!
Photo credits: GoldieBox, Tech D.I.Y.
1 http://www.uis.unesco.org/ScienceTechnology/ Pages/women-in-science-leaky-pipeline-data-viz.aspx
by Silvia Bianchi