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Girls can, too:
Empowering women in code

Coding: no longer is it reserved for data team members or kid genius hackers from early 2000s box office movies.

staff contributor

March 31, 2022

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As everything becomes increasingly digital, the need to know how to code is becoming more and more integral, on par with learning a second language. It's another way to transmit information, to express oneself, and more ambitiously, change the world. However, if we take a look at who runs the tech sector, it's very clear: men are estimated to account for 91.7% of all developer jobs, followed by women at just over 5% and non-binary, genderqueer, or gender non-conforming individuals at 1.42%. But in a field that was initially founded by a woman (in 19th century England no kidding), why is it that women occupy only such a small percentage of developer roles?

We spoke with Kate Arthur, founder of Kids Code Jeunesse a charity focused on giving kids access to a digital skills education, about the power of code, why it's important to encourage equality, and how we can empower women to find their place in the tech world.

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Putting our knit to the test:
Attempting to rip our impossibly resilient fabric.

Kate Arthur and her three daughters in STEM wear our Classic Sheer Tights.

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Putting our knit to the test:
Attempting to rip our impossibly resilient fabric.

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Kate Arthur and her three daughters in STEM wear our Classic Sheer Tights.

The making of the boys club

Fluently understanding code allows you to communicate in a new way and gives the ability to control a narrative in an extremely creative manner. In short, it's a new language, and those who learn it hold a certain amount of power. However, if you take a look at the tech world today, the majority of roles are occupied by men, meaning that they are the ones wielding that power. But coding was initially seen as 'women's work', on par with secretarial duties or even planning a dinner —so why has there been such a shift, with men leading the pack?

"There's a lot of discussion and many different views around why women don't have as much of a place as they used to,"

Arthur says. “One would be the power that coding has. It's perceived in a much more powerful light today, which attracts male interest.” But it's not only that; over the years, tech professions have been glorified through media and entertainment, such as Back To The Future, earning an elevated status and garnering further attention from everyone, particularly boys and men.

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Establishing equal playing ground

For decades, STEM was predominantly encouraged for boys, which plays a huge role in the tech industry's gender landscape as we see it today. Meanwhile, most women gravitated more towards the arts because that's the direction they were guided towards. “Currently, we separate the sciences from the arts, which I think is a huge disservice and is quite anti-innovation,” says Arthur. "You need the two together to really make a change. If you think about the real innovators—from da Vinci to Einstein to Steve Jobs—they all blended this beautiful balance of both science and art."

The call for equality in tech

A really interesting scenario that came to light in a Kids Code Jeunesse workshop included, of all things, LEGO. According to Arthur, if you observe how most boys play with LEGO, they build a structure and then break it down simply for the purpose of building and breaking down and understanding what these building blocks are doing. Whereas most girls would play with LEGO driven by a purpose, like building a house. The boys had curiosity. The girls had purpose.

Arthur also describes an app which was created by a team of female students she mentored, which they dubbed Garbage Bag. The concept was to geotag trash around the city and alert city officials, with an option to even tag which fast food restaurants or brands the trash originated from. The amazing thing about this was that the girls didn't know how to code prior to this project; learning how to code was a byproduct of fulfilling their mission's purpose.

"I believe it was Zuckerberg who said, 'move fast and break things'," Arthur mentions, which very much relates to the way that the boys interacted with their LEGO. Because the tech world has long been governed without enough female, or other diverse, input, Arthur believes that we're seeing the repercussions of that mentality. “We can't go fast and break things, because it ruins and destroys our values and society in so many ways.” Case in point: we need more equality and diversity in tech in order to approach problems from different perspectives.

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Lifting up our girls in tech—and beyond

The tech industry still has a ways to go before achieving gender equality, but the first step is to empower girls to follow their dreams in STEM if that's where their dreams lie. “Role models are so important for women,” says Arthur. “For a young girl to have someone to look up to who encourages them is really important.” It's key for other successful women to act as role models and mentors for the next generation, and to ensure that young girls, in STEM or otherwise, feel like they belong and that they can achieve their goals.

"If we empower younger generations to be able to understand the power of AI and data, to understand algorithms, then they'll be equipped with the tools needed to take on problems like climate change and advances in healthcare," says Arthur.

"There are so many great areas that technology can address, it just needs to be done ethically and responsibly."

At the end of the day, technology is neutral; it's neither good nor bad. It's up to us to determine how it's used, and part of that lies in how we teach and guide the younger generations to use it.

Arthur's advice for girls looking to blaze their own path in the coding or tech world? “Reach out to women who are years ahead of you in their career. Because they have fought through similar obstacles, and they'll be willing to give advice.” They'll also, ultimately, be happy to pass on the baton, so that the next generation can go ahead and lay the foundation for the—hopefully more equal—future of code.

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