02 September 2021
Attracting girls into Computer Science A Level
The gender gap that exists within the scientific and technological fields is very obvious when we consider, for example, that only 35% of those studying a STEM and 19% of those studying a computer science degree are women. Furthermore, only 25% of STEM graduates are women. The picture is even grimmer when we look at the huge abyss within the engineering and IT professionals’ workforce, with 10% and 16% respectively being female. There is a final statistic within this study that is very worrying, 60% of female STEM students have had their future career prospects affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (1). These figures are very concerning and corroborate that there are limitations imposed by gender stereotypes within society. It is therefore crystal clear that we need to do something to break barriers in order to achieve gender equality within science, mathematics and related disciplines.
This STEM gap begins in secondary education, fuelled by stereotypes and expectations regarding women’s roles at work and in society (2). The few women who begin these careers encounter male-dominated workplaces with substantial rates of discrimination. Their contributions can often be ignored and they can feel isolated due to lack of access to female peers, role models, and mentors. Moreover, women are more often than not paid less than their male counterparts (3). A consequence of this is that these women leave their careers at higher rates than men, particularly among those who are parents (4). There is a recent study on inequality within society that states that there are similarities in the reason why women and ethnic minority groups feel discouraged to follow STEM careers. This influences the products and services created by STEM businesses, such as artificial intelligence (AI). Strategic and structural changes in businesses to recruit, retain, and advance women in computer science jobs can help to attract more women in the long run (5).
The question still remains, what can we do in secondary schools to attract more girls into computer science A Level? I am going to share below what we did at my school in order to achieve this.
The first thing that we did as computing leaders is to look into the Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4 computing curricular plans and ensure they contained more creativity, communication opportunities, female role models and that it ignited intellectual curiosity.
Secondly, we changed the displays within the classrooms and the corridors to have both genders represented and show girls that there is a plethora of women in STEM that achieved great things and helped shaped our world.
Thirdly, we liaised with external agencies, such as local universities, RAF and STEM ambassadors in order to bring female speakers to talk to all students in assemblies and deliver workshops on coding, robotics, etc.
Lastly, we liaised with other departments, science and DT in particular, and the pastoral team within the school in order to have a holistic approach in lessons and form activities to encourage more girls in sciences, engineering and computing carers.
This approach over 1 year resulted in 47% girls’ intake at GCSE; this will translate into 30-40% of girls at post 16 in September 2021. Definitely well worth the effort by the whole STEM team!
What has been your experience around this area? Please share practical examples from your experience?