Digital technology – where are all the girls?

Screenshot of tweet by @harryharrold.

"@harryharrold Thx...for kind words re #yrs2011 I just bought coffee and turned the 'aircon' up."

I am really looking forward to catching up on what the Young Rewired State teams produced during the 2011 event, which happened in the first week in August (search for hashtag #yrs2011 on Twitter). Teams of young people (“young” = under 18 years old) at a number of locations did some great things with open data in the space of a few days. The youngest – the team of under-10s in Ipswich – coded a game (video about it by mentor  Pixelh8 aka Matthew C Applegate), and produced my favourite quote of the event thus far: “Oops! I just destroyed a county!”

Although I have not yet seen the outcomes of all the projects, I think that the mentors must have been as impressive as the Young Rewired Staters. Harry Harrold of Neon Tribe was modest when some of us congratulated him on being a mentor to the team working at the Norwich centre who won the ‘Best in show’ prize (see image above).

However, I think that it takes some special people to organise things so that young people are enabled to do these projects. I suspect that apart from providing a space congenial to working on digital projects, believing that the youngsters can actually do it is part of the magic.  The mentors also did other very practical things. For example, I saw a number of calls go out on Twitter for information or data that others in the digital community could contribute. Obtaining and giving people the tools, then standing back a bit and letting them get on with it, is not an easy thing to do.

Of course I am biased in favour of Young Rewired State because I know, like and admire some of the people (the over-18s) involved in the project, including, of course, Emma Mulqueeny (aka @hubmum). I have met a few of the past Young Rewired Staters at other events. I think that Young Rewired State is an excellent event and tell other people about it. It is a great idea to give young people an opportunity to work with real data, learn some new things, have fun; and to meet other young people with whom they have something in common.

JED2_008879

Discussion at Rewired Culture on 27th March 2010.

I have also taken part in a Rewired State event myself: Rewired Culture. It was great to spend time with people who did not back away with uneasy (or even fearful) expressions on their faces at the mention of structured metadata, controlled vocabularies and information standards in heritage.

Before Young Rewired State 2011, I noticed tweets from the various mentors and other organisers about needing to get more girls involved. This was something that we had noticed last year. I am not sure how many girls there were this year, but I do know that some of the centres had none amongst their Young Staters. I know that someone is looking into why girls were in such a minority again, and that the findings will be shared.

It echoes conversations that I have had with others over the past couple of years with various people including Dr Sue Black. I have commented on the lack of women at hack day events, even those focusing on public cultural institutions, some of which have a predominantly female workforce. Women are commenting on the lack of other women at various events about digital technology. Martha Lane Fox tweeted to us from one event that she was looking out from the speakers’ platform and could see no other women in the room. I was delighted to observe more women in the main hall at the Thinking Digital conference in 2011 than there had been in 2010. I really wish that it had not been something even to note.

I do not usually regard myself as one of the properly technical people, but I did teach myself to install software and to use it on a PC, back in the old DOS days. I can write some HTML and CSS if really necessary. I have been working out how to structure databases for cultural heritage information for about two decades (even before I had database software). I have done a bit of research on image databases in a university research institute. But I do not know how to write C++, Perl, Ruby, JavaScript, PHP etc so do not consider myself a technical person.

JED2EM_016404

Women at the History Hack Day show-and-tell on 23rd January 2011.

I have always assumed that women were as capable of coding as men. There seems to be nothing intrinsically masculine about coding. Photographs of women using computers, carrying out programming, have been around for decades. The first computer programme was written by a young British woman, Ada Lovelace, between 1842 and 1843.

So, why do we not see more female coders – at Young Rewired State or elsewhere? Where are all the girls? What can we do to encourage girls to participate in events? Are there insufficient images in public spaces or popular culture of girls or women using computers? Do we need more women being seen and heard to know about digital technology, to provide more role models for girls? Do we need to do some other types of events to foster interest and confidence amongst girls so that more will sign up for Young Rewired State events in the future?

Half the population is female. Girls use computers at school. Women use computers at work. Half, or nearly half, our coders and developers should be female.

How do we achieve that?

Sign up

By the way, if you are interested in getting involved with Young Rewired State 2012, the sign up page is up and ready for you.

Postscript

Emma Mulqueeny has written a thoughtful post in response to lots of us being a pain and asking about the girl/boy balance at Young Rewired State (and elsewhere).

Please read it: Year 8 is too late – and note that she has set the hashtag for the topic as #yr8is2late – and will gather those tweets together.

Geography Department, 1986
A young woman with computer equipment, Geography Department, London School of Economics, 1986 (from Flickr Commons).

Links

Young Rewired State

Rewired State

Can’t vote but can put a wind in government’s sails [press release], Young Rewired State, 5th August 2011.
<http://youngrewiredstate.org/2011-08/cant-vote-but-can-put-a-wind-in-governments-sails/&gt; Last accessed 7th August 2011.

Jemima Kiss, ‘Young Rewired State 2011: Fresh blood, fresh data and fresh hacks,’ The Guardian, 4th August, 2011.

<http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/pda/2011/aug/04/young-rewired-state&gt; Last accessed 7th August 2011.

Lisa Evans, ‘Open government data the Young Rewired State way,’ The Guardian, 5th August 2011.

<http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/aug/05/young-rewired-state-opensource-government-data&gt; Last accessed 7th August, 2011.

Young Rewired State 2011, Ipswich “Fluffy Data and Red Lasers!!!” YouTube video.

<http://youtu.be/8v_hxyGUKQY&gt; Last accessed 7th August, 2011.

Sign up for Young Rewired State 2012

<http://youngrewiredstate.org/yrs2012/&gt; Last accessed 9th August 2011.

Sym Roe ‘Programmable Games,’ symroe’s Posterous [considers issue of encouraging girls to code]

<http://symroe.posterous.com/65013675&gt; Last accessed 11th August 2011.

2 thoughts on “Digital technology – where are all the girls?

  1. Mulqueeny

    No no no!! I didn’t write a post about lots of you being a pain! I wrote a post about what I saw as the endemic reason behind there being a lack of female teenage coders visible in YRS.

    I mentioned the irritation with forever being asked “the question” because *some* people use it as a diversion from what is actually being achieved by the event we are (usually through volunteer action only) putting on. It is sometimes the: ‘Aha, you think you are doing good but…’ question.

    It is a valid question. I have no idea what to do with my youngest; seriously – where do I point her? There are no places she can learn.

    But it is also a massive question, with answers that reach right into the heart of the National Curriculum, to gender behaviours and societal pressures. All issues that deserve focused review.

    I just couldn’t resist putting in my own 2pth – is all

    I love you and I love this post

    Reply
    1. Janet E Davis Post author

      Thanks for responding – I did write about us being a pain with a grin :-)
      I do think what you’re doing with Rewired State events – and especially Young Rewired State – is wonderful. I can see YRS already making a difference. I was very interested in your thoughts on the issue because you have more direct knowledge of teenage girls’ thinking today than I do.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s