As it stands, 4% of gaming programmers are women. As are seven of the of the world’s top 100 tech billionaires. In 2015, women held 57% of all professional occupations, but only 25% of all computing occupations. The only place where women get involved in coding on anything like an equitable basis is in teaching it.
The culture remains one of ‘coding is for boys’, and ‘too difficult’ — and that’s a problem. It means the existing tools for coding education are actually putting most girls off wanting to learn more about coding and creating on the web. Instead, we should be building tools to give girls both the skills and the confidence to code. As The Wise Campaign put it, if girls aren’t interested in #STEMsubjects by the age of 11, they’re unlikely to switch back.
So why aren’t we trying harder to solve this specific problem?
There’s plenty of places women can learn coding (really, plenty) and plenty of ways they can be empowered to do so. But so many of them start after the most formative years, at primary level, and the fact is, if we don’t look at the root of the problem, this issue is never going to be solved.
Well-meaning attempt to tackle the gender issue can veer dangerously close to pens for ladies. Gender stereotyping of the worst kind.
One alternative is Erase All Kittens - a game-based coding education to girls. It’s not meant to alienate boys — and nor does it. Over half the players are girls (a huge increase on the 20% or so of girls who take part in Code Clubs, for example). But that means that nearly half those learning genuine coding skills are boys. And they’re welcome.
But the point of EAK isn’t about gender stereotyping, it’s about balancing out a cultural hiccup. The one that tells us that computers are for boys; that coding is a male geek things; that computer games involve sport or violence.
EAK is popular with girls, so they concentrating on making sure they know about it, that they find it, and that they use it and learn the languages that will open up possibilities for them in the future. Hopefully those possibilities will include careers in the tech industry or as entrepreneurs in digital. But that’s their business — they just want to help make sure they have the choice.
Boys can use EAK. They should - it bridges the gap between learning computational thinking and using syntax, in the same way a professional developer would. It isn’t about dividing the genders into making different choices, it’s about making sure they all have the same choice in the first place.
And EAK are kickstarting right now, to build an iPad version of their game. Back it. Because you’d be backing the correction to a misstep in the culture of an entire industry. And that’s really rather important.