Comments: Towards a More Equal Tech Culture

Hi Adrian,

First, I think this is great and not patronising.
Second, it's nearly as hard for straight white women to address this as straight white men, for all the reasons you know - diversity, not homogenous groups etc. So I'll talk about me and hope that has some relevance to others, although it may not, and of course I don't claim it's universal. Hopefully others will comment.

I am a mum. This is not just a childcare issue but a time issue. So I need to do stuff when my child is with me, or when she's in bed and I have time to think straight. As it happens she is a girl, and I am keen to encourage her interest in tech, computers, and inventing things. She is just reaching the age when she would find going to an event where she can make things or code or invent or play games would be a good social activity for her, and for me. So for me, stuff we can attend as a family would be good.

It would also be great to have resources online. Sometimes it's easier to find an hour in the house than it is to organise getting out of it. I know there are lots of resources on the web already, so maybe a way of doing particular activities and sharing what you/your small person has achieved would be good. A monthly DIY task with instructions and pics online?

I heard something on the radio yesterday about women becoming engineers. The issue apparently was not so much inspiring young women to be engineers (that bit was easy!), but the fact that, once they returned to school and family, this idea was ridiculed and undermined. So for me, it would be good to have work that involves the whole family, and/or that goes into schools, and that is led at least as much by women as by men. Aiming at boys/dads as well as girls/mums would be an attempt to change their view of women/girls in tech. And doing something directly with teachers to change their perceptions would also be good.

I think that's the real issue here, changing perceptions, and of course it's a societal one. My smallgirl has only met female doctors in real life, one of whom she is related to. But through play, she thinks all doctors are men - women are of course nurses. She was very excited about her new reading book from school all about astronauts (she wants to 'go into space' when she grows up), and then disappointed when none of the astronauts pictured was female. (They did have room, however, for a dog.) I am finding the Mighty Girl site very useful in this respect, although most resources are American. Maybe we need something similar to celebrate the achievements of women in tech and science, and to encourage that change in perception, and point us to resources that are accessible in the UK.

Finally, me. I would like to learn to code and am thinking of experimenting with the RPi. Due to time pressure, I am only going to be able to do this at home, on sporadic occasions, doing big chunks then not much and then lots again. Having an online way of doing this with occasional human being-in-person support/social event would be lovely.

Great initiative, hope people get involved as there are so many things that could and should be done!


Posted by Maria Barrett at April 7, 2013 11:05 AM

Thanks Maria, lots of good stuff there.

Some of the easy things first...

Do you know about Future Makers? It's a hands-on family making session at DoES Liverpool on the second Saturday of the month.

I'm not sure of the exact age range, roughly speaking it's primary age but there've been both toddlers and teenagers along in the past. It's run by Kirsty and Steve Sparrow.

I'm not sure what they're doing (if anything) about getting resources online, but I'm sure if someone else wanted to video some of the sessions or help get it documented otherwise, they'd be more than happy.

As to getting things into schools, I'm helping Kirsty and Steve with some work that we're doing as a result of a NESTA bid. I'm doing some coding, and helping Kirsty develop the teaching materials for some Internet of Things/Arduino kits. Imagication (Kirsty's company) will then be taking them into local primary schools and looking to share the resources online so other schools or people at home can do them.

On you learning to code, Python seems the default choice these days - particularly with R.Pi. Ask on the DoES mailing list and I'm sure you'll get some good pointers, and if you can spare an evening, PyPool is starting up again on 16th April.

The societal stuff is trickier, or at least a longer-term problem to tackle. I hadn't heard of Mighty Girl before, have you got a link? Is it this blog? Wasn't completely obvious which you meant out of the results on Google :-) If you wanted help finding people to interview in starting something similar in the UK, I can definitely assist...

Posted by Adrian at April 7, 2013 03:02 PM

I listened to a great piece on Women's Hour the other day with Dame Sue Ion, who I'm delighted to have seen speak twice. She had some really great insights into the issues involving women in science and engineering. I'll post a link on Twitter. It may have been the one you heard Maria? If not its well worth a listen.

My niece left school last year. Shes always used a computer from when she was tiny. Loves them. But she hated tech at school. All they taught her was how to use Microsoft packages, which she'd already taught herself. I think this is a problem with the national curriculum that has been identified. I've certainly read some discussion about the need to teach programming is schools. I hope this is now being actioned? Also I hope someone has the smarts to recognise that its not enough to teach programming alone. It has to be taught in context, alongside looking at application design, development life cycles and the implications of socio-technical systems. A broader more challenging curriculum would suit both genders well. I'm going to stick my neck out and say that, generally, boys rather like solving problems, which is a big part of learning to code. Girls, generally, like the the big picture, application design, project management and user experience. They work inwards from here. Both get to the same place by taking different routes. They're highly complimentary. All of the best work I've been involved with, in a variety of different contexts, happens quickly and with great humour when you have a mixed gender team.

Maria, have a look at Codeacademy Its a really useable site with lots of great exercises that'll have you writing code in no time at all. I'd start there. If you need a some online support or a code buddy, I could help? I know from my own experience that I need a lot of encouragement and some support when I'm starting to do something new. So if you need a code buddy I could cheer you on :)

Thanks for raising this Adrian. Got my grey matter working on a Sunday

Jen x

Posted by Jen at April 7, 2013 03:54 PM

Good point about the wider context stuff, and you're right - it would help both sexes. There was a great blog post recently from Zach at Scraperwiki about how he covered what "a career in computing" looks like.

The stuff I'm doing with Imagication for the NESTA project is hopefully the right sort of approach - they'll be kits to build an Internet-of-Things weather forecast display, with follow-on ideas about measuring temperature, light-levels, etc. That could fit both into a technology lesson and also geography. Maybe we should be trying to develop more things like that - Applied Technology if you will?

Emma Mulqueeny is doing lots of good work on this front with Young Rewired State and in particular her Year 8 is too late thoughts on getting girls interested in tech.

Posted by Adrian at April 7, 2013 04:17 PM

I've just read Zach's post. Interestingly he focusses on "where your code could be" which kind of reiterates my point above. To appeal to me he'd've had to talk about designing and developing technological systems to solve big world-around problems. I know that is implied in his presentation, but the focus is on writing code. Just an observation BTW, not a criticism.

Posted by jen at April 7, 2013 04:49 PM

Adrian, good post! Thank you.

As you know I wanted to write but wondered how my experience could constructively help you in techdom... having chatted with you I figure I will put them out there anyway.

So, firstly re. tech courses, as a non tech female I thought the html/css/java intro at was a great start. Not least because it was crammed into a single day and involved humans. GA are based in London (and internationally) so that might not suit those in the North West but their online offer is varied and changes all the time... you might've come across them already. The codecademy looks really useful too, thanks.

The BBC initiative that I mentioned might be something that DoES Liverpool could tie into. Also, in terms of reaching out, my first thought was kids/teenagers and I see that Future Makers are already doing that - fantastic.

Re. your comments, thinking about things, and vocalising those concerns are no bad thing. Re events, a lot of the 'targeted' events that I've attended have been awkward. They do miss the point and they are often patronising. Probably because they continue to set up old fashioned binary oppositions, which create more problems than they solve; probably because the objectives are vague/huge, and probably because they try so hard to be politically correct.

I come from a generation that thought/ were told that feminism had resolved everything and that we were all equal - contrary to what we were living and breathing once we left education. Which is why I think that the debate has resurfaced. Your choice of words is spot on - diversity and equality. Challenges of gender, race, ageism etc. are often addressed in isolation, what happens if events and programmes consider/highlight our differences. Events designed around those differences could do it without excluding/ labelling - Jen is spot on re. applied technology, project management and user experience.

Having written the above I did the classic, leave it for a few days before hitting the send button... And, I'm glad that I did. Because now I can add that Sophie Raworth interviewed Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg on Andrew Marr this morning. Sandberg articulated familiar points and mentioned equality, quotas and the eternal question: can we have it all?

Sandberg also made the point that I have found myself making a lot recently; I didn't consider myself a feminist, as she says many women of our generation thought it was somehow unnecessary. Yet, having worked for a few years, and having seen women fall away professionally, and struggle privately, it is apparent that the debate is still absolutely necessary. Especially when you hear the extraordinary coverage on Merkel, Kolmsee and 'Raven mothers' in Germany. Anyway, I love hearing more articulate, experienced men and women out there talking about this; it's good to see the term 'feminism' remerging in industry, academia, and popular culture in a healthy way.

Interview starts 23mins into the programme.

Hopefully not too much of a tangent. Good work McEwan!

Posted by Jen2 at April 28, 2013 04:08 PM

Thanks Jen2, and the interview link was useful too.

Since writing this post I've also come across - a discussion at Bracamp in Manchester about the origin of the Girl Geek Dinners, which has some good ideas and tips in about making events more welcoming.

I think (/hope, as it's hard to test :-) that some of the discussion in general is also helping - as it shows there are others who care about these sorts of issues, and help nudge the general perception that things need to get better. Not an overnight success, but little of what matters can be achieved in such a fashion ;-)

Posted by Adrian at May 1, 2013 03:47 PM
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