Initiatives encourage women to code

Gender rows almost seem part and parcel of the web industry these days but new initiatives are striving to set more diverse foundations for the web's future, by encouraging young women and girls to take up coding.

November 27 will see the launch of Entrepreneur First's Code First: Girls, which will teach female graduates basic coding and technical skills. And for young girls, e-skills UK is running Computer Club for Girls (CC4G), aiming to encourage the development of skills and an interest in IT and coding.

A solid foundation

According to a press release, Code First: Girls wants to "encourage more women to consider a career in technology or as an entrepreneur" and will "give up to 30 high-potential female graduates a solid foundation in coding". The course will teach the logic behind coding, the different languages and how they interact, and how to create simple web applications that turn ideas into working prototypes. Participants will each be assigned a female mentor from the industry to provide support and guidance.

"It is no secret that there is a lack of female participation in the technology industry and, for many young women, a lack of basic programming expertise can put them off entering the exciting world of tech start-ups," said Alice Bentinck, COO of Entrepreneur First. She added that you don't need a computer science degree or years of coding experience to build a technology business, just smarts, creative thinking and a strong work ethic; but by providing ambitious female graduates with a strong grounding in the language of their technical peers, that could help bring more women into the UK start-up scene.

Understanding motivation

Developer and entrepreneur Dave Stewart told .net that in an industry as demanding and analytical as the web—code or design—gender should be a non-issue, with people instead "looking on a daily basis at quality of ideas, communication and execution". Additionally, he thought "knee-jerk reactions like 'the industry is sexist' don't stack up," and argued that more effort really needs to be made in understanding what drives and motivates boys and girls. "We must find out if the apparent gender bias has anything to do with external influences, or if it's simply that girls have different motivations, aspirations and goals," he said, in order to answer imbalance questions.

Now working on a new coding topic with CC4G, Stewart was enthusiastic about that initiative's aims: "It seems what we need to work at for girls is inspiration, communicating the fairly esoteric ideas of programming and code using paradigms they can relate to and get excited about. This is where girls-only clubs like CC4G are really valuable. The subject matter is tailored specifically to topics girls are interested in, and the tasks and exercises within use computers or coding to help them realise specific goals."

Starting young

CC4G manager Laura Cole told .net that girls have to be caught at a young age, in order to redress imbalance within the industry: "We believe enthusing girls about technology and technology careers needs to be addressed in education, and ideally from primary school age. Research by e-skills UK, and others, shows girls are making decisions about future career options from as young as the age of 8 and it's around the same time that many of them decide IT is a 'boys’ thing' and not for them. It is critical we challenge these perceptions while they are at school and making decisions about their future paths through education."

Cole said research by e-skills UK showed only 18 per cent of IT professionals in the UK are female, and only nine per cent of computing A-level candidates last year were girls, showing that the gender-balance problem starts young. She hoped CC4G will get more girls involved in technical industries: "CC4G shows girls from a young age how exciting a future career in technology could be, and it gives them space to work creatively, developing their skills without the boys hogging the school IT suite! Anecdotal evidence from our schools tells us boys very often dominate in IT lessons, and so CC4G offers girls a fun, safe environment where they can develop their skills."

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