girls in STEM

Building the Future of Women in Technology on the Global Stage

The disparity of women in the fields of computer science and technology is much more than a national issue. The distinctly unbalanced ratio of men to women in the technology field is a global pattern that spans from modernized first world societies like the U.S. to developing African nations like Ghana.

In the U.S., the recent surge of increasing the participation of women in the areas of programming, critical thinking, coding, and executive level leadership has taken key steps to meet the growing demand for technology professionals. Recognizing the lack of encouragement for young girls to become interested and passionate about STEM fields, many programs from Google’s Made with Code program, to Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s Code Camp, and even local startups such as the San Antonio VentureLab, have begun to address this issue by targeting younger generations of girls.

The U.S seems to be on the forefront of the global movement to integrate women in STEM fields. With approximately 82% of the population having Internet access in the U.S, the accessibility of getting young kids, particularly girls, involved with educational programs is highly achievable.[1] In comparison, African nations represent only 9.8% of the total world’s population with Internet access. [2] These conditions are particularly discouraging for the advancement of women in STEM fields in African nations, mainly because of the lack of resources that are critical to teach younger generations about technology. African women and young girls in particular are at a severe disadvantage, as they are not often encouraged to pursue a professional career in general. However, the first ever pan-African Women in Tech took place recently on August 2, 2014, in which multiple live viewing events in Uganda, South Africa and Ghana connected women across the African continent to discuss matters of technological initiatives to raise awareness and reach potential African women interested in STEM related fields. [3]

As these tech initiatives begin to gain momentum in the U.S, other countries look to follow along with startup organizations of their own. One noteworthy recent startup is gaining momentum in African nation of Ghana. Here, Regina Agyare has taken Ghana’s first steps to invite young women into the world of technology with her mentorship program, appropriately named Tech Needs Girls.[4] Recognizing that the technology industry is a fast growing and highly lucrative field, Agyare feels it is imperative to introduce young girls to critical thinking technological-based skills.

Building upon her personal experience in the technology industry- Agyare was the first female IT specialist at the International Bank of Ghana in Accra- she knows first-hand how difficult it is for women to break into this male-dominant field.[5] After six years of working as an IT specialist for the International Bank, a very high paying job for a woman in the technology business, Agyare left her job in 2012 and begin her own software development company called Sornoko Solutions.[6] Literally translated, Sornoko means unique in Agyare’s native language of Twi.

Agyare, the company’s founder, and lead software developer, has continued to expand Sornoko Soultion’s very unique mission of integrating technology into Ghanaian communities so that individuals can learn to use technology to enhance their everyday lives.[7] In particular, Sornoko has developed apps and software for the disabled. Recently, Sornoko has been working on developing an app that will convert text into sign language for deaf individuals.[8] In the non-profit sector, the skills development program, Tech Needs Girls, aims at teaching the next generation of women to “speak up and stand tall” while claiming their place in the STEM fields, according to Agyare. [9] Agyare’s involvement in the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders encouraged her to use an interdisciplinary approach when introducing younger girls to the technology field. [10] The incorporation of technology skills with fields such as engineering, design, math, social planning, and entrepreneurship broadens the horizon of potential careers for young girls involved with Tech Needs Girls, and other similar programs for girls around the world.

Entrepreneurial tech companies such as Sornoko, in association with programs teaching younger generations, such as Tech Needs Girls, have begun to build a foundation for advancing the female percentage in STEM fields. As this trend spreads from the US to African nations like Ghana and to other parts of the world, there is great hope for a future of women in technology because of the efforts and leadership of women like Regina Agyare.

 

[1] Internet User Trends. (2014) Provided by International Telecommunication Union , United Nations Population Division, Internet & Mobile Association of India, and The World Bank. http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/

[2] http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/ (see footnote 1)

[3] Ninyeh, Albert A. ( July 30 2014) “3 Countries Team Up For First Pan African ‘Women In Tech’ Meetup” InfoBoxDaily. http://infoboxdaily.com/index.php/component/k2/item/1672-3-countries-team-up-for-first-pan-african-women-in-tech-meetup

[4] Kermeliotis, Teo and Jessica Ellis (26 March 2014). “5 reasons technology world needs more geek girls.” CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/26/tech/5-reasons-tech-needs-geek-girls/index.html?iref=allsearch

[5] Kermeliotis, Teo and Jessica Ellis (see footnote 4)

[6] Kermeliotis, Teo and Jessica Ellis (see footnote 4)

[7] Kermeliotis, Teo and Jessica Ellis (see footnote 4)

[8] Soronko Soultions. “Apps for the Disabled” http://www.soronkosolutions.com/apps.html

[9] Kermeliotis, Teo and Jessica Ellis (see footnote 4)

[10] U.S. Dept. of State. Young African Leaders Initiative: Meet the Fellows https://youngafricanleaders.state.gov/meet-the-fellows-regina-agyare/

Girls Need More Encouragement

One of the reasons women are a minority in tech-related fields is that they are rarely encouraged to pursue a career in STEM at a young age. Providing role models for young girls and encouraging them to explore their options in a science-, math-, or technology-related field is key to closing the gender gap and getting more women involved in these careers.

Multiple journalists agree that the answer to closing the gender gap depends on the kind of education young girls are getting. Alicia Chang, a writer for huffingtonpost.com, mentions in “Bridging the Gender Gap: Encouraging Girls in STEM Starts at Home” how “the majority of studies show no differences in STEM ability, a large divide in perceived competence starts [at an early age]” [1]. She argues that growing up, women do not feel as confident to go into STEM-related fields because they are not as encouraged by parents and teachers. Forbes writer Heather Huhman also wrote an article asking “where is the female equivalent of Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg?” She also mentions how the lack of female role models in computer science inhibits the closing of the gender gap in this field[2]. She argues that girls will be less likely to follow in the steps of someone they can’t relate as a role model. Stereotypes and pop culture also play important roles. Media seldom portray women in computer science and rely on portraying programmers as geeky men.[3] The environment in which girls are growing up is not helping them believe they have the potential to become computer scientists or engineers. In a The Baltimore Sun article, Danae King, agrees that women need to be more encouraged by those around them to become interested in math and science and adds that “many girls’ interest in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math wanes as they get older because of socialization and lack of exposure and access” [4]. In her article, King also praises Towson University’s tech camp that include female instructors to serve as role models for young women interested in the field[5]. These kinds of camps are important to closing the gender gap since they present STEM fields as something attainable and fun for girls.

Confidence and belief in one’s capabilities is important for personal growth and development. If women are not encouraged more often by their parents, teachers, and friends that they  have the potential to become engineers, mathematicians, computer scientists, the gender gap will still be present in the future. Tech companies are doing a good job at trying to reach out and get girls interested at an early age, but there is still a lot to be done.

[1] Chang, A. “Bridging the Gender Gap: Encouraging Girls in STEM Starts at Home.” Huffington Post. Dec 27 2013. Web. Sep 16 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alicia-chang/bridging-the-gender-gap-encouraging-girls-in-stem_b_4508787.html

[2] Huhman, H. “STEM Fields And The Gender Gap: Where Are The Women?” Forbes. Jun 4 2012. Web. Sep 16 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2012/06/20/stem-fields-and-the-gender-gap-where-are-the-women/

[3] Huhman, H. “STEM Fields And The Gender Gap: Where Are The Women?” Forbes. Jun 4 2012. Web. Sep 16 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2012/06/20/stem-fields-and-the-gender-gap-where-are-the-women/

 

[4] King, D. “Tech Camps, Other Programs, Hope to Keep Girls Interested in STEM Fields.” The Baltimore Sun. Jul 25 2014.Web.Sep162014.http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-women-in-stem-20140725,0,280615.story

[5] King, D. “Tech Camps, Other Programs, Hope to Keep Girls Interested in STEM Fields.” The Baltimore Sun. Jul 25 2014.Web.Sep162014.http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-women-in-stem-20140725,0,280615.story