Engineering a better future – how businesses and individuals within the STEM sector can support in narrowing the gender divide

 Dr Hilary Leevers, Chief Executive of EngineeringUK. states that despite the increase, these figures “should still be a major concern to the engineering sector,” a belief that Code Ninjas, the kids coding specialist, agrees with. Here, Grant Smith, Vice President of Education at Code Ninjas, explains why introducing girls to coding early is so important and discusses how we can help eliminate the gender divide in the STEM field.
 
The first time I witnessed how critically important it is to introduce coding to both sexes at an early age was when I was teaching seventh grade. One semester, a group of girls came to me with a project they wanted to put forward for coding class. Sadly, one of their friends who had attended the school had recently passed away, and this group decided they wanted to make a coding program in memory of her. Their final project was coded to present a garden of flowers that, when clicked, sprang up a sweet animation of a word to describe their friend. Had this group of girls been excluded from my coding class for whatever reason, their friend would not have had this thoughtful memorial made for her, and the school would not have had this space to remember her. This sparked in me a commitment to ensuring I facilitate the coding education of both boys and girls, on an equal level, for the rest of my career. It is crucial that we teach computer science to both genders - that they have the freedom to work on projects that are meaningful to them, and that we encourage them in their engineering and scientific projects.
 
My experience is just one example of why Code Ninjas ensures that its locations and camps are inclusive. The majority of the locations are open to children aged five years and up, which could appear to be too young, but research suggests otherwise – and I’m going to explain why I believe the secret to narrowing the gender divide is introducing girls to coding and STEM at an early age.
 
WeAreTechWomen (2022)1 states that introducing girls to coding at a young age is not just about feminism and creating a level playing field, but about solving problems for the future. More women in STEM fields means that there is a higher chance that future issues, and even current ones today like treatments for diseases, are solved. We are missing out on many innovations as girls are being excluded from science and engineering-based classes due to conscious or subconscious stereotypes. One way to eradicate these stereotypes in science-based jobs is to remove the divide from day one. Early exposure is key and plays an immense part in how many women feel included and want to carry on in the STEM field. This is why Code Ninjas is committed to offering a fun, educational space for both sexes. Girls are not stereotyped but are instead encouraged, and I hope this will play a part in the future in creating a more equal world in the STEM career field.
 
Women need to be encouraged to pursue their passions – both science and technology - before and during their career. A great way of this happening is via role models. A Spanish study2 found that the best way to encourage young girls to pursue a STEM career is to expose them to women who are already successful in the STEM field. This is the same for the UK. Leanne Linacre, Co-Founder of Lead5050, an organisation that promotes equality in the workplace, states that “Female role models are important for ambitious women. If we can’t look up and see women who have been successful, we are less likely to be successful ourselves.”3 She continues, “The presence of women in leadership positions and the opportunity to network with them is vital to helping motivate women to advance in their careers.”


 
Linacre explains that young girls must have role models, and this is something we try and have at Code Ninjas. We have both male and female Code SenseisÔ guiding the kids, and this helps young girls to see they can excel in the STEM field, and to not let their gender be a limiting factor. Having female role models at our locations provides an opportunity for young girls to explore future career avenues which they might not have considered before. An organisation which recognises this is STEM Women, who encourage STEM students and graduates through career events and digital marketing services to help contribute to a more diverse and inclusive STEM workforce. A report by STEM Women (2022)4 found that many graduates are uncertain about their career choices and struggle to believe they will have a successful career. They suggested that employers should provide opportunities for young girls to see women in positions of power, which is exactly what we try and do at Code Ninjas. Our young female Ninjas can see that having a career in the STEM field is not only an option, but an achievable one. This ultimately helps our students to strengthen their self-efficacy around coding, believing they too can become a master in their field.
 
Grant and his team at Code Ninjas are making strides in helping to reduce the gender divide in the technology landscape. Introducing coding to girls at a young age helps build their confidence in their STEM skills, and in themselves, showing them that a future in the field is possible. Constant encouragement from the Senseis at Code Ninjas locations means that young girls are inspired as they explore the field, helping to break the gender divide that has been present in the scientific field throughout history. Providing the kids with approachable female role models at the studios and camps is yet another reason why Code Ninjas is engineering a better future for the next generation of female scientists, engineers and mathematicians in more ways than one.
 
1 WeAreTechWomen, 2022, Why we need to encourage more girls into coding and STEM
2 Susana González-Pérez, Ruth Mateos de Cabo and Milagros Sáinz, 2020, Girls in STEM: Is It a Female Role-Model Thing?
3 Leanne Linacre, 2022, Why We Need Female Role Models
4 STEM Women, 2022, Career Progression Key to Achieving a More Gender Balanced STEM Workforce
 
12/07/2022