In 2017, only 27 percent of females say they would consider a career in technology. This means that every industry is missing out on a wealth of incredible talent.
As part of our efforts to tackle this gender gap in technology roles, we host groups of 13-year-old girls in the Microsoft offices for a fun and inspiring day packed with practical activities. This enrichment opportunity is called DigiGirlz.
Based on our research about girls and STEM, we have designed a DigiGirlz event day for 12-13 year old girls. This is a critical age to target as it is around this time that many girls can lose interest in STEM subjects and opt out of studying subjects such as computer science. DigiGirlz allows them connect with technology as a tool to improve lives, meet women in technology careers, and to imagine themselves working with technology to build a brighter future.
Currently 16 percent of first-degree undergraduate computer science students are women. Despite the overall number of computer science students increasing year-on-year, the gender gap remains.
DigiGirlz event days are full of energy from the girls and also the Microsoft volunteers. The programme has been running for a number of years. Currently, myself and a team of seven other interns have the responsibility of ensuring it is a valuable and enjoyable event for the girls who come, be thoughtful in what we do and ensure volunteers leave satisfied.
I was once a young girl who enjoyed technology and ICT. I never considered that it would be possible for me to study a subject like computer science because I thought that I wasn’t capable of doing so and that I wouldn’t fit in a class full of boys. Looking back, I wish I had the confidence to take a step out of my comfort zone. Being closely involved in the DigiGirlz programme over the past six months has been eye opening for me. The level of careful thought and design that is needed to run a DigiGirlz event has struck me, and I wanted to share some of the key ingredients.
1. Create a collaborative environment
DigiGirlz participants gain an incredible amount of value from the day by working together, building a solution as a team, and hearing each other’s ideas. It’s by creating a safe, collaborative environment that they have the room to express interest and enthusiasm for technology.
At DigiGirlz events, we encourage girls to talk to each other and brainstorm their ideas. We also create an environment where they are confident to ask questions in front of the whole room, when one girl sees it is ok to do this, the others follow. This leads to rich and inclusive discussions.
2. Build diversity into the day
It’s critical that all girls see technology as an option for them. The girls need to be able to see themselves in the people around them, as it’s hard to be what you can’t see. Our research shows that young women in the UK are more likely to choose STEM subject if they have a role model they can relate to. This means we have to thoughtfully select our volunteers- they don’t all need to be women, it’s important to have a broad and diverse group. These key contributors on the day will be role models for the girls and it is imperative that everyone feels included and empowered.
3. Make it practical
The hands-on activities that take place during the day involve the girls in creating, prototyping and collaborating, and some even code. This year we introduced PowerApps to our DigiGirlz event, asking the girls to build their own apps on the themes of wellbeing, revision, and sustainability. While setting a theme can help the girls start thinking. Make sure to give them space to innovate and be creative – their ideas will impress.
4. Be ready for anything!
These girls are capable of anything. You will be surprised how creative some of their ideas will be. Try to avoid placing too many limits on their creativity. Encourage volunteers to empower girls to be confident with their thoughts and that no idea is a silly one. I promise you will be shocked by their knowledge and creativity at such a young age.
5. Connecting with purpose
Even though these girls are young, they will have strong, informed opinions. Especially on topics like climate change, accessibility, and mental wellbeing. Using themes like this enables them to think about and understand that technology can be used for good, to make a difference.
Empower them with the knowledge that they can make a real impact with some of their ideas – to be inspired by what technology enables them to do. Encourage the girls to share their experience when they return to school. They might present their idea in an assembly or give a talk on future technology to their peers. By showcasing their limitless potential, they can inspire others.
Focus on the experience they have, not the output they create
We are trying to bust myths and instill the passion and confidence to take a subject like computer science. Some girls may be discouraged by people around them or feel out of place in a class. Providing them with a clear understanding of the possibilities and potential may help them to ‘swim against the stream’ in that situation.
There are over 200,000 12-13-year-old girls in England. Our DigiGirlz programme currently reaches around 600 girls each year. We know that there are many other people and organisations that share our passion for inspiring girls about STEM. It has been invaluable for us to learn from many other experts. We hope that by sharing our learnings we can help and encourage others in this important endeavor.
For any schools who are interested in attending a DigiGirlz event, please keep an eye out on the DigiGirlz website. Our next event is taking place on April 2 at the flagship Microsoft Store in London – register your interest here! We also have events planned for Manchester and Reading in early summer.
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About the author
I am a Marketing Communications Intern in Microsoft UK’s legal team, taking a year out of my degree studying at the University of Bath. I manage all aspects of the legal team’s robust customer outreach (from the communications and logistics to the materials and pre-briefings) on a range of legal topics including data protection, security, AI and Ethics, Microsoft’s Online Services Terms and legal tech productivity. As part of my Intern stretch project, I am the Communications Lead for DigiGirlz and am passionate about women in tech.