Within the consumer world one way marketers encourage more women to purchase their goods is what we refer to as "pink it, shrink it". Make it feel more like a women should use it. But should we be using this method to encourage more girls to code?
Last week during a panel on encouraging more girls to code at the European Commission, we heard from 15 year old digital girl of the year, Amy Mather; "It's more female role models that we need, please don't make it pink". The room was filled with a collection of ambassadors from all over Europe meeting in preparation for European Code Week. The group was amazingly majority female and this message strongly resonated.
The conversation soon moved on to the question of whether the aggressive language associated with coding was enough to put off girls; 'hacking' or 'dojo' from the popular volunteer led Coder Dojo clubs for children. Amy stood by her statement, we don't need to make things softer and fluffier for girls.
So what can we do to get more girls into coding?
Essentially it came down to 3 things.
Firstly motivation - why should I, a girl, want to code? Programming is often considered a technology, but is this really the best way to describe it? Instead we should view it as a tool, a way of being able to create things. It doesnt matter what your interests are, coding can let you create things in the same way using pen and paper help you create a piece of art, write a piece of music or solve a complex maths problem. With this tool anyone can be creative and we need to show boys and girls alike how they can use coding to build and make things.
Aspiration was the second thing. The typical male 'techie' stereotype can turn many girls off coding. We need more female role models to inspire young girls. It can often feel daunting being the only female at a male dominated hackathon or local code club. Giustina Mizzoni from the Coder Dojo Foundation emphasised the importance of having female volunteers leading sessions. "We've found that Dojos with female volunteer mentors not only attract, but retain higher percentages of young girls; these mentors give young girls the opportunity to view computer science as a viable career option for them.'
Thirdly there needs to be access for all. There are a plethora of amazing free resources and clubs that allow children and adults to start learning these skills. But what more can we do? England's schools are leading the way on this, introducing all children to the fundamentals of programming from the age of five. But somebody asked the question: "Should coding really be put into schools? Won't this remove the fun from programming and disengage students, especially girls. It should be kept off the curriculum."
This really scared me. The announcement of computing being put onto the curriculum in England really excites me and it presents huge opportunities for girls and boys. I didn't write my first line of code until I was 18, whilst studying engineering at university and I am not sure I had even known what coding was before then.
But it was my experience as a secondary school teacher in a challenging inner city secondary school that cemented this view. About 80% of students I taught came from the 20% most income deprived areas in the country. In the lead up to starting at my school I had heard a frightening statistic: in the UK, the likelihood of a child's success was directly linked to their parents wealth. Were these kids doomed to a lifetime of failure? We can change this statistic - and thousands of teachers are working hard to do this. It is so important to teach our children skills that will stay with them long after they leave the classroom. Teaching coding will provide all children with a tool that will let them be creative, learn new ways of thinking and develop a hard skill that can lead them to a job, no longer having to depend on their parents wealth. I think everyone should have access to this - not just those with the parents who are committed to taking their children to out of school classes.
So "pink it, shrink it" really isn't the answer and sadly not everyone has been fortunate enough to have programming brought to them in the classroom, but there are still ways to get everyone involved in coding. I hope as many people as possible take part in European Code Week during 11th-17th October. An opportunity for everyone to experience first hand that coding isn't just for geeky boys!