If you like your iPhone, your fitbit, your copy of Microsoft Office, or whatever computer hardware or software that you own and use frequently, you should pay attention to this. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Those products can be way better than they are right now. But that’s not going to happen because roughly half the population aren’t participants in making these products. And the half of the population that I am talking about are women. In other words, your daughters, spouses, and mothers. Women are vastly under-represented in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) which means that the influence that they could provide in the products and technologies that we use every day is simply missing. And what’s worse is that we as a society aren’t helping this because we’re driving women away from STEM related careers. Consider these as proof of this:
- Teachers admit to having stereotypical bias against girls in STEM: The Daily Dot
- Unconscious Bias in the Classroom: Google [Warning: PDF]
- Accenture Finds Girls’ Take-up of STEM Subjects is Held Back by
Stereotypes, Negative Perceptions and Poor Understanding of Career Options: Accenture
The flipside to all of that is that girls outperform boys when computer science is on the curriculum. That says to me that we need to encourage more participation by women and girls in STEM related subjects. But the sad part is that this is not a new problem. When I graduated from university in the mid 1990s, my computer science graduating class only three women in it. Three. And according to Melissa Sariffodeen who is the CEO of Ladies Learning Code, things aren’t much different in 2017. But her organization is out to change that.
Let’s start with what Ladies Learning Code is. Their purpose is make sure that women and girls, not to mention everyone else, gets every opportunity possible to get the skills to contribute to the high tech world that we live in. The started with a single workshop in 2011 and have since branched out to operating in over 22 cities across Canada. They have a pair of youth focused programs called Girls Learning Code and Kids Learning Code, a educator focused stream called Teachers Learning Code where educators can get lesson plans from the organization to help get coding initiatives off the ground in their schools. Finally they the Code Mobile which brings their programs into communities across Canada. Here’s the best part about this, in my discussions with Ms. Sariffodeen, I discovered that these programs have been around long enough that those who took these courses are now running courses for the next generation. What that says is that the tide is turning in terms of getting more women into STEM related subjects as that will create momentum that will be self sustaining. If you want to see other impacts that this organization is having, I encourage you to read their annual report as is full of enlightening facts.
Coming up on May 13th 2017 is Girls Learning Code Day. This is the fourth year for the event and on that day, hundreds of Canadians girls and their parents will come together to challenge themselves to learn a new skill: digital storytelling & animation using Scratch, a beginner level programming environment. I plan on covering the Toronto event so watch for that story to be posted on the day of the event.
We need to have more women in STEM related careers. And it’s going to be organizations like Ladies Learning Code will make that happen. Do the women in your life a favor and encourage them to attend one of their events. Or donate to the cause via PayPal. At the end of the day, we as a society need all of us to have the skills, ability and opportunity to contribute to the advancement of our society. That’s not going to happen if half of us are on the sidelines.