Girls in Tech

Child Using LaptopI think we are doing a better job encouraging girls to go into science and math. I think we still have some work to do, but we’ve come a long way. I don’t think we’re doing as well encouraging girls to go into technology. Next year, I’ll be the only female member of my four-person technology department, and that’s not unusual. Actually what’s unusual is that my technology department has any women. Our technology classes are populated mainly by boys, at least by my casual observation.

This month’s digital issue of Tech & Learning cites a College Board statistic that the Computer Science AP exam has the lowest number of girls of any of the AP exams since 1999 at 18%. I am showing my ignorance here, but I didn’t even know there was a Computer Science AP exam. The National Center for Women & Information Technology has published a fact sheet with more disquieting facts:

  • In 2009 women earned 18% of computer science degrees, down from 37% in 1985.
  • Women comprise 25% of computer-related occupations. Of these women, 2% are black, 4% are Asian, and 1% are Latino.
  • The number of women interested in majoring in computer science for undergraduate studies has dropped 79% from 2000 to 2009.

One way I plan to try to raise awareness of women/girls and technology among my own faculty is to coordinate some event, even if it’s just a newsletter, around Ada Lovelace Day this October. Raising awareness is all well and good, but what should be done to encourage girls and women to go into technology? What is at the root of the decline in interest?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Picture Youth.

6 thoughts on “Girls in Tech”

  1. Nobody really has a definitive answer yet on those last two questions you asked, but the STEM research (particularly in the emerging field of engineering education) is beginning to give us some idea of what's going on.

    A lot of the STEM ed research seems to be pointing to the idea that whatever is happening, happens when girls are young — as in, grades K-3 — and becomes solidified during the pre-teen and teenage years. That is, girls form their conceptions about the STEM disciplines during the very early grades, and by the time they hit high school and college there is almost no changing those conceptions, no matter what we do.

    One very strong predictor of girls' success in the STEM disciplines is the teachers they have in those early grades. Particularly, if girls have an early-grade class with a female teacher who is weak in math and science, those girls tend to form iron-clad negative opinions about math and science that never go away. (Can't find a link to that study just now.) This is really sobering when you think about how many female college students go into elementary ed with a professed weakness in math and science. One thing those of us who teach preservice teachers can do is make very sure that new elementary teachers are good at math and science, can teach it well, and find enjoyment in it personally.

    So the emerging efforts to correct the underrepresentation of girls in the STEM fields are targeting kindergartners (good NYT article:… and re-targeting girls in the critical age bracket of 12-14 years.

    Some of those outreach programs actually target parents rather than kids. For example, Monica Cardella at Purdue University is doing research on how parents read STEM-related kids' stories (involving counting or shapes, for example) and there might be some way coming out of that study of encouraging parents to interact more fruitfully with their kids.

    Short version – we (both teachers and parents) have to teach girls when they are VERY young that the STEM disciplines are for them, too. Believe me, I've got 5- and 7-year old daughters and I'm working hard on this myself.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing all of this! Of course, it makes sense that it is something we need to tackle when girls are young. Reading is a similar issue, especially among boys. I'm definitely going to pay attention to this issue. So glad my girls enjoy technology. I was saying to a math colleague the other day that I wished someone had told me when I was in high school that I was a good math student. I didn't perceive myself that way. I worked pretty hard for the B's I earned. What I have learned as an adult is that I have an ability to figure out how to solve a problem—what formula will work, for instance. I wish I had a teacher point that out to me and praise it. I wonder if that kind of encouragement would have gone a long way toward changing my perception of myself. My pointing in bringing it up is that I wonder if young girls, high school girls, and even women, just don't perceive technology as something they're good at.

  2. Your post made me curious so I checked out some stats in our district. We have 9 CITS who go to campuses each week to provide ongoing training. 7 are women and 2 are men. All are former classroom teachers.

    Our current tech is a woman. It has been about 50/50 on that. 1/2 the time we have had a male tech and 1/2 the time it has been a female.

    1. It looks like your district is doing something right in their recruitment. It would be interesting to see what is different.

  3. Dana,

    You will be glad to hear that of the 10 people who attended the excellent "Google for Educators" PD workshop I went to this week at Woodward, 8 were women! Also, I think 7 out of 25 students who have expressed interest in the SEO club were girls. Two small data points that I hope will make you smile. See you in August!

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