What can be done to attract more girls into studying IT?

A number of societal and structural factors are working together in preventing girls from pursuing a career in IT. What can be done to increase girls' participation in computing?

In the former article of the UniteIT Gender Equality workgroup, we described the multiple contexts in which girls develop their perceptions, interests, confidence and career decisions regarding IT [1] and concluded there is no single, easy answer to increasing girls' participation in computing [2].

Without being exhaustive, this article uses a scientific approach [3] to identify a number of best practices, strategies and promising programs [4] that have proven to be effective in addressing the barriers that prevent girls from pursuing a career in technology [5].

Increase knowledge about ICT jobs

One of the strongest direct predictors of girls’ interest in computing classes is the extent to which they see value and relevance in computing [6], but girls often know very little about or have significant misconceptions about these jobs.

  • A survey of 836 students found that the top reason girls chose to study Computer Science was to their desire to use Computer Science in another field [7]. That’s why it is important to point out the ways that computing can be used in a variety of fields to solve important problems and that these jobs are well-paying and likely to be quite plentiful [8].

    NCWIT and Dot Diva offer talking points for having these conversations with girls and contain resources showing how computing can linked to relevant jobs.
  • Inviting young female professionals as guest speakers or organizing field trips to meet professionals at their workplace is another useful approach to change misconceptions about computing jobs.

    MITA (Malta) [9]VHTO (Netherlands) [10] and Interface3 (Belgium) [11] are just some of many organizations that have experience with these type of actions.

Interrupt stereotypes

  • A number of programs offer workshops to debunk stereotypes by expanding on the stereotypical ideas high school students already embraced [12] about what types of people do which type of work, especially regarding informatics [13].

    These programs remind girls that intelligence and technical ability are not innate but are like muscles that can be developed over time. They make girls aware about the phenomenon of stereotype threat, because recognizing it is a first step in overcoming it [14].

    An example of such a program is the Girls Day Boys Day workshop by Interface3 (Belgium).
  • Other workshops work to interrupt stereotypes by challenging problematic media representations in movies, advertisements, websites or games. Students analyse the media messages for assumptions and biases related to gender and computing: e.g. who’s included and who’s left out; what kind of sex, skin colour, clothing, accessory styles are available when creating avatars [15].

    An example of such a workshop is analyzing the way in which women, computers and computer scientists are portrayed in films with computer science plots [16].
  • Other programs target teachers and offer professional development courses related to gender and computing. To ensure that they encourage underrepresented students to pursue computing careers, also school counsellors are invited to such courses.

    An example is the Tapestry workshop that offers strategies, research-based practices, and field-tested good ideas for teaching computer science in a way that reaches all students regardless of sex or ethnicity.

Improve the irrelevant curriculum

Next to breaking down stereotyped views, professional development courses also train teachers to incorporate engaging pedagogies and relevant computing curricula into their classrooms.

Projects solving real-life problems, hands-on activities, pair programming, experiential learning of computing in context, collaborative work and working towards a final product are examples of proven methodologies that have increased girls’ interest, confidence and plans to pursue computing [17].

Research has shown that to make computing relevant for girls, it is important to connect the curriculum to students’ prior interests and knowledge and to show how computing can improve people’s lives and solve social problems [18]

Approaches that offer exciting results are workshops that include gaming, robots, app development, wearable technology, website creation or non-wired activities.

  • Especially programs that attempt to expose students to computing through game design and programming have seen a dramatic increase in recent years and were effective in helping girls developing skills such as using graphics and databases, as well as more fundamental computing concepts, such as algorithmic thinking, loops and conditionals [19]. Examples of tools used in these workshops are Scratch, Kodu, Alice, and Storytelling Alice.
  • Also workshops using educational robotics increased girls’ confidence and interest in engineering and computer science in particular [20]. Examples of tools used in these workshops are LEGO NXT robotics [21], PicoCrickets, Play-i and Sphero.
  • Another recent approach is to teach girls to develop mobile apps. An example of a tool used during these workshops is App Inventor [22] and organizations like Technovation [23] and Black Girls Code [24] have experience with organizing such workshops for girls.
  • A very novel approach taken by some organizations is the use of e-textiles or “wearable” computing technology: programmable electronic devices that can be sewn into clothing [25]. The tool used her is Arduino and groups like Little Miss Geek [26] DYN Divas [27] and the Girls Scouts have experience in organizing such workshops.
  • A more traditional but still actual approach is website & multimedia creation among groups of girls. An example of such a project is CyberSoda by Interface3 (Belgium), that also includes non-wired activities such as the “PC seen from inside”.
  • Other examples of a non-wired approach are activities that teach Computer Science through engaging games and puzzles using cards, string, crayons and lots of running around. Examples can be found at the website of CS Unplugged.

Actively recruit girls

Girls should be actively recruited into computing courses, don’t wait for them to come to you! Personally invite girls who might be interested but might not think of enrolling [28].

Use social group recruitment strategies where you recruit groups of girls into classes so that they are not alone. Recruit from female sports teams and/or courses with higher percentages of girls. When possible, connect computing to their interests in these other classes. This approach has significantly increased female enrolment in computing courses [29].

Peer influence is an important factor when it comes to recruiting, as studies have found that perceived support from school peers had a direct effect on girls’ interest in computing classes and careers, more so than support from parents. That’s why it is important to build supportive networks for girls and recruiting groups of girls who already know each other into computing classes [30]

Expose to role models

A wealth of research in science education in general, and in computing education in particular, finds that role models are important factors influencing girls’ decisions to pursue computing [31].

That’s why, as girls may find it more difficult to find a female tech-savyy role model at home, all kinds of opportunities that provide girls with role models of women participating in computing should be encouraged:

  • Showcase inspiring stories about what women have accomplished in technology [32].
  • Showcase exciting things other adolescent girls are doing with computing.
  • Invite peers as mentors during a workshop, because young people consider peers as guides, especially when they lack adult role models.

    Projects like the Young Women in Computing Program (YWiC) continuously expose students to effective role models drawn from all levels of the educational pipeline: after finishing the program, students are encouraged to participate in the subsequent cycles of the program as peer mentors.

    Another project, Digital Divas, involves university undergraduates as “near-peer” mentors that facilitate interactions with young professionals operating as guest speakers and role models.

Eliminate stereotype threat and unconscious bias

As explained in our former article, stereotype threat is defined as the reduced confidence and performance when one is reminded of negative gender stereotypes such as “girls are not good at technology” [33].

Stereotype threat is often activated in all or mostly-male environments [34], as it is sometimes easy to make quick assessments about boys’ “inherent” talent for computing tasks. Teachers should be on the lookout for these stereotyped views and avoid confusing prior experience with ability, because girls typically have less early exposure to computing activities than boys [35].

Teachers should also pay attention to unconscious biases in teacher-student interactions [36]:

  • make sure you allocate equal time on the computer for girls
  • call on girls equally in the classroom
  • assign difficult problems to girls as well as boys
  • spend time equally between girls and boys.

Similarly, they should pay attention to unconscious biases in student-student interactions [37]:

  • make sure male and female students take on a variety of roles in the classroom (e.g. that girls aren’t always the group note-taker)
  • make sure male and female students have access to multiple technical roles
  • encourage quieter students to speak up
  • encourage students to allow others to finish working before they speak up (this helps to ensure that speed is not rewarded over a student who takes more time to explore questions or projects)

To eliminate both stereotype threat and unconscious biases, a lot of programs opt for single-sex education. Research on single-sex education has found many benefits for girls:

  • Increased comfort. The majority of girls report to be glad a computing class was only for girls [38] or would feel uncomfortable being the only girl in a class[39]
  • Increased confidence. Graduates from all-girls schools are more likely to rate themselves in the highest categories of computer skill competency compared to girls at coeducational schools [40]. Girls felt they could do computing because there were other girls doing it around them [41].
  • Increased learning. Girls perceive more support from teachers, are more vocal [42] and self-report an increased amount of learning [43].
  • Increased peer support. Peers helped build community [44] and some of the more negative aspects of peer influences were mitigated [45].
  • Increased future intentions. Girls report more academic interests in computer science [46] and intent to pursue future career options than did girls in mixed-classes [47].


In the above and the former article, we have provided a summary of the key barriers to girls’ participation in technology and promising practices for addressing these barriers.

We hope both articles can serve as a reference and resource for educators, curriculum developers, educational policymakers, school counsellors, IT learning coordinators and, last but not least, media makers and game developers that wish to raise awareness and are willing to act as change makers in addressing the gender gap in IT.

Related articles:


[1] We us the term “Information Technology” (IT) to reflect a broad range of computing-related activities. We identified IT as a broad set of activities, but typically activities that focus on “applying the components of information technology to solve a business information problema, such as network or database administration”, as defined by the Association of Computing Machinery.
[2] We use the term “computing” because it functions as a more general and inclusive term that encompasses a wide range of information technology, computer science or other computing-related activities, curricula and professions.
[3] This was also the approach of Girls in IT: The Facts, published by the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) on which most of this article is based (Ashcraft et al., 2012)
[4] The selected actions all share a common characteristic: they involve participants in creating or adapting technology (e.g. developing applications/software, programming, developing hardware, coming up with new technical devices or solutions) rather than in using technology (e.g. using word processing, database or other software). In this way, we distinguished between practices that focused on computer literacy and those that encourage youth to take op computer science.
[5] The term “Technology” also refers to involvement in the creation or adaptation, not use, of technology.
[6] e.g. Denner, 2011
[7] Carter, 2006
[8] Girls in IT: The Facts, published by NCWIT (Ashcraft et al., 2012) p. 41
[9] In 2013, the Malta Information Technology Agency (MITA) organized a 2 day campaign to promote tech enabled careers to girls in Malta. Download the program and watch the videos of Day 1 and Day 2.
[10] The Dutch national expert organisation on girls/women and science/technology (VHTO) every year celebrate their GirlsDay every year, on which thousands of girls between 10-15 make field trips to science, engineering or ICT companies
[11] Interface3’ IT person for a day action for high school students between 13-18 contains a 3 hour field trip to ICT companies, with a special focus on female professionals
[12] Miller & Hayward (2006) surveyed 508 UK students aged 14-18 for their perceptions regarding 23 occupations. Both girls and boys preferred jobs that they saw as stereotypically gender-appropriate and dominated by their own sex .
[13] Graham & Latulipe, 2003
[14] For more information on these strategies or on stereotype threat in general, see www.ncwit.org/stereotypethreat and www.reducingstereotypethreat.org
[15] Denner et al., 2005; Klawe, 2002; Black et al., 2011
[16] Killer Robot? Evil Scientist?! Helpless Woman?!? http://www.cs4fn.org/films/helplesswoman.php
[17] In the US, programs like Globaloria and AgentSheets have partnered with schools to train teachers to incorporate relevant computing curricula into mainstream classrooms.

[18] Barker et al., 2006; Lasen, 2010; Teague, 2002; Goode, 2007; Margolis et al., 2008; Vekiri, 2010
[19] Werner et al., 2006. An analysis of 108 games demonstrated that high school girls engaged in moderate levels of complex programming to create these games and that game design and programming can support the learning of computer science concepts (Denner et al., 2011). Studies also found that when girls created games, it influenced their technical (in this case, engineering) identities (Svarosky & Schaffer, 2006).
[20] Mason et al., 2011; Bruckman et al., 2009; Kelleher et al., 2007; Kelleher, 2008
[21] An online course for teachers on teaching LEGO NXT robotics is available at Google’s Computer Science for High School resources page:  https://cs4hsrobots.appspot.com/preview
[22] An online course for teachers on teaching App Inventor is available at Google’s Computer Science for High School resources page: https://css-cs4hs.appspot.com/CS4HS2013/course
[23] Find Technovation’s “Girls Make Apps” workshop guide at: http://www.technovationchallenge.org/wp-content/uploads/GirlsMakeAp... 
[24] Watch footage of Black Girls Code’s App Inventor workshop at http://youtu.be/Iw3X6hZp630 
[25] Lovelle & Buechley, 2011; Lau et al., 2009; DuBow & Wu, 2012
[26] Watch footage of Little Miss Geek’s Wearable Tech Event organized for Girls in ICT Day 2013: http://youtu.be/WGjqgWaAvMs
[27] Watch footage of DYN Divas’ “Sowing Urban Computational Electronic Designers – SUCcEeD” workshop at http://youtu.be/HCX3ReOekJ4
[28] Barker et al., 2006; Goode, 2007, 2008
[29] Goode, 2008
[30] Goode et al., 2006
[31]  One of the most important characteristics of a role model is that girls perceive these models as “relatable” and similar to themselves. While girls need to see women like themselves in these roles, gender and race are not the only factors in perceived similarity, as the feeling one will “fit in” is a major factor in choosing a career. Barker & Aspray, 2006; Clark Blickenstaff, 2005; Cozza, 2011
[32] See for example www.ncwit.org/heroes
[33] Even when said in jest, comments like “Great job! You’re living proof that girls really do have a technical mind” can invoke stereotype threat.
[34] Aronson, et al., 1999; Spencer et al, 1999
[35] This is particularly true for girls of colour and girls from underresourced areas (Cunningham, 2011; Margolis et al. 2008)
[36] Barker & Aspray, 2006; Jepson & Perl, 2002
[37] Barker & Garvin-Doxas, 2004; Clark Blickenstaff, 2005
[38] Carmichael, 2008
[39] Girls Scouts Research Institute, 2012
[40] Sax, 2009
[41] Jenson, de Castell & Fisher, 2007; Jenson et al., 2003
[42] Crombie et al., 2002
[43] Jenson, de Castell & Fisher, 2007; Jenson et al., 2003
[44] Jenson, de Castell & Fisher, 2007; Jenson et al., 2003
[45] Peer influences can have a negative effect on girls’ perceptions and interests if their peers are not interested in or supportive in computing. Peer influences are especially strong during teenage years because students begin to display an even greater need to perform certain persona that their peers deem to be appropriate, cool, or acceptable. In all- or mostly-male environments stereotype threat is often activated as the “posturing” of male students in classrooms can damage the confidence level of female students. Girls in IT: The Facts, published by NCWIT (Ashcraft et al., 2012) p. 26-27 & 34
[46] Crombie et al., 2002
[47] Girls in IT: The Facts, published by NCWIT (Ashcraft et al., 2012) p. 51


Aronson, J., Steele, C.M., Brown, J., Lustina, M.J., Good, C. & Keough, K. (1999). When white men can’t do math: Necessary and sufficient factors in stereotype threat. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 29-46.

Barker, L. J., & Aspray, W. (2006). The state of research on girls and IT. In J.M. Cohoon & W. Aspray (Eds.), Women and Information Technology: Research on Underrepresentation, (pp. 3-54). Cambridge: MIT Press.

Barker, L. J., & Garvin-Doxas, K. (2004). Making visible the behaviors that influence learning environment: A qualitative exploration of computer science classrooms. Computer Science Education, 14, 119-145.

Barker, L., Snow, E., Garvin-Doxas, K. & Weston, T. (2006). Recruiting middle school girls in IT: Data on girls’ perceptions and experiences from a mixed-demographic group. In J. Cohoon & W. Aspray (Eds)., Women and Information Technology: Research on Underrepresentation. Cambridge: MIT Press. 

Black, J., Curzon, P., Myketiak, C., & McOwan, P. W. (2011). A study in engaging female students in computer science using role models. Proceedings of the 16th Annual Joint Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education, 63-66. 

Bruckman, A., Biggers, M., Ericson, B., McKlin, T., Dimond, J., DiSalvo, B., Hewner, M., Ni, L., & Yardi, S. (2009). “Georgia computes!”: Improving the computing education pipeline. SIGCSE, 86-90.

Carmichael, G. (2008). Girls, computer science, and games. SIGCSE, 107-110.

Carter, L. (2006). Why students with an apparent aptitude for computer science don’t choose to major in computer science, SIGCSE, 27-31.

Cassell, J., & Jenkins, H. (2000). Chess for girls? Feminism and computer games. In J. Cassell & H. Jenkins (Eds.), From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer games (pp. 2-45). Cambridge: MIT Press. 

Cunningham, C. (2011). Girl game designers. New Media & Society, 13, 1373-1388.

Clark Blickenstaff, J. (2005). Women and science careers: Leaky pipeline or gender filter? Gender and Education, 17(4), 369-386.

Clayton, K. L., von Hellens, L. A., & Nielsen, S. H. (2009). Gender stereotypes prevail in ICT: A research review. Proceedings of the Special Interest Group on Management Information System’s 47th Annual Conference on Computer Personnel Research, SIGMIS CPR, 153-158.

Cozza, M. (2011). Bridging gender gaps, networking in computer Science. Gender, Technology and Development, 15(2), 319-337.

Crombie, G., Abarbanel, T., & Trinneer, A. (2002). All-female classes in high school computer science: Positive effects in three years of data. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 27(4), 385-409.

Denner, J., Werner, L., Bean, S., & Campe, S. (2005). The girls creating games program: Strategies for engaging middle-school girls in information technology. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 26(1), 90-98.

Denner, J. (2011). What predicts middle school girls’ interest in computing? International Journal of Gender, Science and Technology, 3(1).

DuBow, W. & Wu, Z. (2012). E-textiles Workshops Evaluation. (Unpublished evaluation). Boulder, CO: National Center for Women & Information Technology.

Girl Scout Research Institute. (2012). Generation STEM: What Girls Say about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Girl Scouts of USA. Authors: Modi, K., Judy, S., & Salmond, K. 

Goode, J., Estrella, R., & Margolis, J. (2006). Lost in translation: Gender in high school computer science. In J. Cohoon & W. Aspray (Eds)., Women and Information Technology: Research on Underrepresentation. MIT Press.

Goode, J. (2007). If you build teachers, will students come? The role of teachers in broadening computer science learning for urban youth. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 36(1), 65-88. 

Goode, J. (2008). Increasing diversity in k-12 computer science: Strategies from the field. SIGCSE, 362-366.

Graham, S., & Latulipe, C. (2003). CS girls rock: Sparking interest in computer science and debunking the stereotypes. SIGCSE, 322-326.

Hayes, E. (2005). Women, video gaming, and learning: Beyond stereotypes. Tech Trends, 49(5), 23-28. 

Hayes, E. (2008a). Girls, gaming and trajectories of IT expertise. In Y.B. Kafai, C. Heeter, J. Denner, & J.Y. Sun (Eds.), Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming, (pp. 217-230). Cambridge: MIT Press 

Hayes, E. R., & Games, I. A. (2008b). Making computer games and design thinking. Games and Culture, 3(3-4), 309-332. 

Jenson, J., and C. Brushwood Rose. (2003). Women@work: Listening to gendered relations of power in teachers’ talk about new technologies. Gender and Education, 15(2), 169-181. 

Jenson, J., de Castell, S., & Bryson, M. (2003). “Girl talk”: Gender, equity, and identity discourses in a school-based computer culture. Women’s Studies International Forum, 26(6), 561-573. 

Jenson, J., de Castell, S., & Fisher, S. (2007). Girls playing games: Rethinking stereotypes. Proceedings of the 2007 Conference on Future Play, 9-16.

Jepson, A., & Perl, T. (2002). Priming the pipeline. SIGCSE, 36-39.

Kafai, Y. B. (2008). Considering gender in digital games: Implications for serious game designs in the learning sciences. Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Learning Sciences - Volume 1, ICLS, 422-429. 

Kelleher, C., Pausch, R., & Kiesler, S. (2007). Storytelling Alice motivates middle school girls to learn computer programming. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI, 1455-1464.

Kelleher, C. (2008). Using storytelling to introduce girls to computer programming. In Y.B. Kafai, C. Heeter, J. Denner, & J.Y. Sun (Eds.). Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming (pp. 247-264). Cambridge: MIT Press. 

Klawe, M. Girls, boys and computers, Inroads (the SIGCSE Bulletin), vol. 33, no. 2, 2002. 

Lasen, M. (2010). Education and career pathways in information communication technology: What are schoolgirls saying? Computers & Education, 54(4), 1117-1126. 

Lau, W. W., Ngai, G., Chan, S. C. F., & Cheung, J. C. (2009). Learning programming through fashion and design: A pilot summer course in wearable computing for middle school students. SIGCSE, 504-508.

Lovelle, E., & Buechley, L. (2011). LilyPond: An online community for sharing e-textile projects. Proceedings of the 8th ACM Conference on Creativity and Cognition, C & C, 365-366.

Margolis, J., Estrella, R., Goode, J., Holme, J., Nao, K., (2008). Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race and Computing. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 

Mason, R., Cooper, G., & Comber, T. (2011). Girls get it. ACM Inroads, 2(3), 71-77.

Miller, L., & Hayward, R. (2006). New jobs, old occupational stereotypes: Gender and jobs in the new economy. Journal of Education and Work, 19(1), 67-93.

Sax, L. (2009). Women Graduates of Single-Sex and Coeducational High Schools: Differences in Their Characteristics and the Transition to College. The Sudikoff Family Institute for Education & New Media & UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies.

Spencer, S., Steele, C. & Quinn, D. (1999). Stereotype threat and women’s math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 4-28 

Svarovsky, G. N., & Shaffer, D. W. (2006). Engineering girls gone wild: Developing an engineering identity in digital zoo. Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Learning Sciences, ICLS, 996-997. 

Teague, J. (2002). Women in Computing: What brings them to it, what keeps them in it? SIGCSE, 147-158. 

Vekiri, I. (2010). Boys’ and girls’ ICT beliefs: Do teachers matter? Computers & Education, 55, 16-23.

Werner, L., Denner, J., & Campe, S. (2006). IT fluency from a project-based program for middle school students. Journal of Computer Science Education Online, 2.

Views: 1743

Add a Comment

You need to be a member of Unite IT: The e-Inclusion Network in Europe to add comments!

Join Unite IT: The e-Inclusion Network in Europe

© 2021   Created by Unite-IT Manager.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service