Women represent the majority of young university graduates, but are still underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. What’s keeping women away from the tech industry? A number of women, including Raspberry Pi champion and educator Carrie Anne Philbin, are working to improve the status quo and inspire a generation of girls to take up more traditionally “geeky” subjects.
In the west, female participation in computer science has plunged since the mid-80s. The gender gap and the “male computer geek” stereotype may be traced to the advent of the home computer in the early 1980s, when computers were heavily marketed as gaming systems for men.Source: The Guardian
Philbin, while working as a teacher in East London, noticed low enrollment by girls in information and communications technology (ICT) courses. Female students would instead opt for subjects often seen as more creative: art, dance or the humanities.
Recent research from PwC revealed that only 3% of female students would consider a career in technology as their first choice. Many felt they didn’t have enough information about what a career in tech could involve. Others felt that the tech sector simply wasn’t creative enough.Source: The Guardian
Philbin wondered what she could do to share her passion for science, technology and computer science with young people. She theorized that students exposed to the broad range of creative and scientific careers in technology may discover an interest in a field they had previously dismissed.
In middle school, 74% of girls express interest in STEM subjects, but when choosing a college major, just 0.4% of high school girls select computer science, according to Girls Who Code.
Philbin then made it her mission to provide teenagers the opportunity she never had: access to people working in tech, and resources demonstrating how to create, build or do different tasks using tech skills. She not only serves as chair of the CAS #include, an initiative to get more girls and minority groups into computing, but she has also helped organize workshop-based hack days for adults and children.
Author of Adventures in Raspberri Pi, a computing book for teenagers wanting to get started with Raspberry Pi and programming, Philbin is the winner of Teach Secondary magazine’s Technology & Innovation Best Author award for 2014. Her YouTube series The Geek Gurl Diaries, aimed at teenage girls, includes interviews with women working in technology and hands-on computer science-based tutorials.
Today, Philbin leads the education mission for the Raspberry Pi Foundation.
Philbin is not the only innovator blazing the trail for women in tech, though. She’s in great company, with other forward-thinking women showing the next generation just how diverse, creative and exciting this sector can be.
Consider director and YouTuber Hazel Hayes, who started out working in-house for Google-owned YouTube. Hazes found her niche when she broke away and built her own YouTube series, handling every aspect, from scripting, editing, grading, music and graphics, as well as uploads and promotion.
Then there’s Lisa Forde. The owner of The Card Gallery, Forde is living proof that technology and creativity need not be mutually exclusive. Forde built her online invitation and stationery business from scratch, and she continues to handle coding for the website and all digital marketing.
If, like Philbin, Hayes and Forde, you’re a woman curious about STEM and you find yourself at the intersection of technology and entrepreneurship, there are a number of organizations (such as US-based TechGirlz and WISEST, a unit of the University of Alberta), professional associations (including Women in Technology International, or WITI) and grants to help.
When it comes to women in technology, it’s full STEM ahead!