Is this the solution to the lack of women in tech?

By opening up the industry to girls in a fun, engaging way, we encourage a passion for the sector earlier on in life

Despite it being something most people are aware of, the statistics around the lack of women in tech still make for shocking reading. Outnumbered 4:1, women occupy only 5% of the industry’s leadership roles, comprising just 19% of the UK tech workforce.

STEM subjects have been pushed in secondary and further education for the last 10 years or more – so why aren’t we seeing more women in STEM roles? Is enough really being done to address the gender imbalance? A Women in Tech study by PwC in 2018 found that due to a lack of interest, teachers not making the subjects appealing and being better at humanities or other essay-based subjects, young girls are less likely than boys to study STEM subjects at school, and this continues into university. This is undoubtedly a significant factor in why only 3% of female students consider tech as a career.

The gender imbalance across the sector is a problem that isn’t going away unless we take steps to encourage women of all ages into the sector.

Catch them early on

Essentially, the problem stems from the fact that young girls’ only exposure to the industry is passive consumption of content, or during lessons in later school life. I firmly believe that the key to getting girls into tech is to introduce them to it when they are much younger and, perhaps most importantly, by it being fun.
Encouraging our children to engage with information when they’re not actively aware that they’re even learning is a fundamental component of their cognitive development. Whether you’re supporting a child in a parental or educational role, it goes without saying that children are much more likely to participate fully in an activity – and also retain that information – if they’re having fun.

But you don’t just have to take my word for it; there are plenty of experts to back up this theory.

Dr Martha Burns – a leading neuroscientist and expert on how children learn – says that dopamine plays a crucial part in learning and retaining information.
We all know that dopamine plays an important role as a chemical messenger in how we feel pleasure, as well as affecting memory, attention and our ability to plan. Dr Burns refers to dopamine as the brain’s ‘save button’. She says that there are actually some regions of the brain that increase our motivation and interest in activities. Often referred to collectively as the ‘reward centre’, the regions are activated by dopamine. And the more motivated and interested we are in an activity, the more dopamine is released and the better we remember it.

“Essentially, the problem stems from the fact that young girls’ only exposure to the industry is passive consumption of content, or during lessons in later school life”

Fun is fundamental

That’s why everything about Code Ninjas is built around fun. Kids aged 5–14 learn how to code by building video games, robotics and drones – they love it! It’s fun, it’s loud, it’s exciting. Our locations are called Dojos, teachers are called Code Senseis® and our Ninjas progress through a game-based curriculum made up of nine belts – just like in martial arts. It’s all about the experience and couldn’t be further from the lessons that children generally associate with school. We keep things exciting and get that all-important dopamine flowing with little wins along the way. Plus, what kid doesn’t want to be a Ninja? But of course, the centres also provide parent-pleasing results; as well as coding, children gain complementary skills – such as logic, problem-solving and teamwork – that will help them thrive in the future.

Whilst I’m not suggesting that the introduction of Code Ninjas alone is suddenly going to see a generation of girls streaming into the industry, it’s programmes like ours that will definitely improve the chances. When it comes to making choices based on likes, interests and envisioning a future career, initiatives that make tech-based education fun could eventually make girls just as likely to commit to tech as their male counterparts.

You might also like: Why education is key to closing the STEM gender gap


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