Webinar "ICT learning Projects screened from a gender point of view"

The Gender Equality group of the Unite IT Network held its first webinar on Friday 20 June 2014, 10h30-12h CET

Introduction

While Europe is facing an ever widening gap between e-skills and ICT-related employment opportunities, girls are still largely under-represented in computer studies.

ICT learning centers can play a role as change makers in closing this gender gap, not only by training women for specific ICT occupations or high computer & internet skills, but also by addressing the barriers that prevent young girls from taking up careers as ICT specialists.

Summary

The webinar started with a presentation of the participants and of the goals of the UniteIT network in general and of the Gender & Equality group in particular. 

Current state of the GENDER GAP in ICT in Europe

At the level of usage, 15% more men appear to have higher computer skills than women. Here, telecentres definitely have a job to do in not only teaching digital literacy to women, as 90% of the jobs are requiring at least basic computer skills.

At the level of higher education, women only represent 23% of Europeans with a bachelor degree in ICT-related fields. The main challenge is to get more girls into these studies as there will be over 900.000 computer vacancies by 2020.

At the level of the IT workforce, women only hold 15% of ICT specialist occupations.

WHY are so few girls attracted to study IT?

First, because there is a big societal belief of computing as masculine although a lot of research has proven that girls are NOT naturally less interested in computing.

At work here is stereotyped thinking. Stereotypes are enforced by our brain that wants to make complex things more simple and tends to think into categories or groups. To reduce complexity, our brains selects some characteristics to describe a group. These characteristics become stereotypes as they lead us to think all members of a group are similar to each other because this is easier for our brain to process.

Stereotypes can be positive or negative to describe a group, but gender stereotypes about technology are negative for females (e.g. "Girls suck at math"). Gender stereotypes are not only describing (e.g "Girls are social", "Boys are good mechanics") but are also prescribing (e.g. "Girls should be social", "Boys should be good mechanics").

Because computing has evolved around engineering & mathematics - disciplines that are seen as 'cold' and 'abstract', nothing to do with 'emotional' or 'social' - women almost unconsciously think that computing is something for boys. 

WHAT can be done to attract more girls into IT?

Some proven strategies & best practices were selected tailored to the projects of the organisations from Spain and Poland and are explained during the gender consulting.

Gender consulting of the ICT LEARNING project for disadvantaged youth (Spain)

The project screened is the "Initial Professional Qualification Program for Assistant of Computer & Network Maintenance Technician" from TEB Youth Association, Spain. This year-long course for school drop-outs aged 16-24 is populated by 10-14 students, mostly male and coming from disadvantaged communities. Also the large majority of technology teachers are male.

Gender recommendation 1: Use engaging & social group recruitment techniques

Do not directly recruit for the program but for a summer workshop that connects computing with interests girls already have (such as an e-textile workshop or developing a sports app). Video examples of these type of workshops can be found at [1], [2] & [3].

Gender recommendation 2: Provide role models and peer mentorship

Especially girls from disadvantaged communities often do not know any female person in their environment that is into computers. Actively look for female role models from the neighbourhood that could help recruiting and/or act as a teacher or peer mentor during the workshop or the course.

Gender recommendation 3: Pay attention to unconscious biases in student-student interactions.

For example, make sure that girls have access to the more technical roles when they are working in groups or in pairs.

Gender recommendation 4: Be on the lookout for unconscious biases in teacher-student interactions.

Take care that teachers do not treat girls differently than boys. Stereotypes are so strong that this often happens unconsciously, so it is very important that teachers are well educated on how stereotypes work to be able to avoid biases. For example, teachers often confuse experience with ability: it's not because a girl is less experienced that she is less capable.

Gender recommendation 5: Improve the relevancy of the curriculum

Make the contents more close to their world by connecting the curriculum to previous knowledge and to solving real-life or social problems. Move away from the abstract and make it hands-on, experiential, project based and add some non-wired activities.

Gender recommendation 6: Consider single-sex education/workshops

Especially for disadvantaged communities where gender stereotypes are very strong we recommend to opt for single-sex groups as it has been proven that unconsciouses biases & stereotype thread completely disappears and girls obtain better results than in mixed groups.

Examples of BEST PRACTICES from Interface3 (Belgium)

Interface3 is organising a similar course for PC support assistant but has given it a less technical title ("Helpdesk agent") to avoid scaring off women from inscribing to the course. In fact they use the stereotype of "Helpdesk is social and thus for women" for a good cause.

A lot of recruiting is also done through Facebook and LinkedIn where they showcase a lot of success stories of former students.

All promotional material also contains images of women.

Gender consulting of the ICT CAREER AWARENESS RAISING project  for high school students (Poland)

The project screened is "Link to the Future" from the Information Society Development Foundation, Poland. The project exists of speaker sessions of young professionals with the aim of inspiring young high school students from rural areas in choosing an ICT related profession. About 1/3 of the speakers are women and during 2 editions of the program over 21.000 young were reached through about 700 sessions all over the country.

Half of the students reached are girls and were significantly more active during the meetings and more interested in entrepreneurship than boys. As expected, the interests of girls regarding ICT were more situated at the fields of multimedia & design than at programming. 

(Gender) recommendation 1: Increase awareness raising on ICT-specialist occupations

There is a difference between ICT-specialist occupations & ICT-enabled occupations, with the latter demanding more business related knowledge than ICT knowledge. The jobs that are in demand are ICT-specialist occupations so we recommend to concentrate on young professionals with a profile that demand new (and higher) computing skills.

Gender recommendation 2: Increase female role models in ICT-specialist occupations that demand high computing skills

The young speakers that held the more technical jobs were men, so it would be important to make a special effort and look for some "white raves" so to showcase female role models of ICT-specialist occupations.

Gender recommendation 3: Allocate speakers instead of leaving the choice to local organizers

Although the pool of speakers existed for 30% of women, organisers could choose whom to invite so the effort of securing 30% of women went lost as relatively more men than women were invited as speakers.

Gender recommendation 4: Add a workshop to interrupt stereotypical thinking on gender & IT

This is a massive opportunity to talk about stereotypes and have an impact on 20.000 polish adolescent for whom it is not too late to interrupt them!

Examples of BEST PRACTICES from Interface3 (Belgium)

Interface3 has executed a similar workshop on career choice for adolescents which included debunking of stereotypes as one of the main goals. Pupils were trained to recognise stereotypes and open their mind beyond stereotyped thinking in choosing a profession.

Towards a new European funded project : “SHE-GEEKS EUROPE”

The aim is to engage in writing a bid proposal during 2014-2015 to start activity in 2016. A pool of resources is being collected at www.pinterest.com/shegeekseu

Read more

➨ Can Telecentres play a role in women's access to ICT-related jobs?
➨ Why are so few girls attracted to study IT?
➨ What can be done to attract more girls into studying IT?

Photo: CoderDojo Coolest Projects 2012

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