How TechGirlz Served 10,000 Girls in Spite of Them
Written by Tracey Welson-Rossman, TechGirlz Founder/CEO
Commonly held misperceptions have a way of becoming gospel. However, even inaccurate statements – like the advice to wait 30 minutes before swimming after eating – can lead to helpful correlations between food and exercise in our brains. Other times, they can become embedded biases or assumptions that lead us to poor decisions and outcomes.
When talking about girls and tech, I’ve found the latter to be the case too many times to count. Myths about girls and technology are lazy and misinformed, and – unfortunately for our girls – they can lead to self-perpetuating prophecies. It is important that we dispel and stamp out these inaccuracies before they can do more damage.
So in honor of our approaching milestone of having served 10,000 girls through TechGirlz workshops, here are the truths to the 10 most common myths about girls and technology that I encounter.
1. You have to code to be in technology
Let’s start with some of the broader misconceptions about technology in general. While many people assume that tech workers all wear hoodies and code in dark rooms or coffee shops, nothing could be further from the truth.
The modern definition of tech work is all encompassing. From managing a website for the family business, to marketing enterprise software, to using cryptography in payments, our lives are touched by tech in numerous ways. So while coding is certainly a part of technology, it is only one facet. From marketing to analysts to product managers, tech is much more than just coding.
2. Technology is boring
Technology itself cannot be boring. The latest devices, trends and technologies are by their very nature exciting and stimulating creations. The fact that unboxing videos for technology products are so popular means that they tap a collective nerve.
But when I hear this comment, it’s more often in relation to technology as a career. However, if we acknowledge that the nature of work in America has changed, then an airline pilot, a farmer, a bank CEO, and an assembly line worker are all technologists because they must have a familiarity and proficiency with some type of tech. Want to build medical devices or robots for GE? You’re a technologist. Online sports reporter or social media strategist for nonprofits? You’re a technologist. Hard for me to call any of these career choices boring.
3. Technologists are nerds that work in cubicles
I hear it, so I have to mention it here. But if we agree that technology is more than coding and that technologists can be found in nearly any profession…then it’s hard to believe this myth. In fact, it could be said that this current generation of office based technologists are the ones who smashed office cubicle decor in favor of open office floor plans and co-working spaces. And even harder to believe this when you think of archaeologists in the field using instruments to find and measure artifacts that they then relay and share to the world using the Internet and social teaching platforms. Not a cubicle in sight…
4. Girls don’t like technology
This is an easy one to bust. TechGirlz, Black Girls Code, Girls Who Code, and ChickTech are among the many organizations that have sprung up and prospered over the last seven years. Just like TechGirlz, each has seen an enormous wave of girls from different ages, ethnicities and communities flock to their programs because of a love for tech. College computer science programs, like those at Harvey Mudd, Carnegie Mellon and Stanford, have seen more women enroll in their programs. They are so enthusiastically received because they present technology in a way that relates to girls and young women. The demand itself disproves this myth.
5. Girls are bad at science and math
This is a myth within a myth. Certain parts of technology certainly require math and science. But as we’ve already discussed, technology has changed so much and is so much more inclusive of different disciplines today that it’s not a prerequisite. So it’s false to judge anyone as a technologist by how good they are at math or science.
Taking it one step further, there is no genetic predisposition that makes one gender better than another at math or science. So even for those tech disciplines that do require math and science as a core, boys and girls are equally adept. In fact, recent studies have shown that girls are beginning to outperform boys in certain math, science and problem solving disciplines. It’s time that we do away with this harmful myth once and for all.
6. STEM resources are available equally to girls and boys, why don’t girls use them?
This is perhaps the myth we hear most often. Whenever we talk to someone new about TechGirlz, they ask why girls need a dedicated program when there are already so many STEM resources available. If you believe it, then it often perpetuates the follow-up myth that girls must just not like technology (which we already debunked).
Multiple studies have proven that girls begin to turn away from tech in middle school because finding instruction becomes increasingly hard, the courses that are available are ill-suited to the way they learn, and there is a lack of mentors encouraging their participation. It’s not that girls lack interest, it’s that they lack access.
7. Schools already offer tech classes for kids
Nothing could be further from the truth. Unfortunately, school based curricula is lacking for both boys and girls. While many schools do have computer classes or instructors, they are often rudimentary courses teaching basic skills that kids have already learned at home or on their own.
Our own surveys of girls have found that school classes are mismatched both by topic and availability. These girls are getting more access, support and resources at home then in the classroom. This is not necessarily the fault of the schools as they must abide by state level budgets and requirements, but it remains a glaring gap.
8. Girls can just join robotics and other programs with the boys
At the most basic level, I agree with this myth. Yes, girls can absolutely join robotics programs. But this statement actually contains a deeper and more dangerous myth.
What if that girl is not interested in robotics or competition? As we learned in our surveys, girls are rarely interested in one single discipline and crave a variety of tech subjects. Does she have another option? The truth is that there is a depressing lack of after school technology programs for both boys and girls. While some communities offer more choice than others – and those are most commonly robotics style programs, most kids have little or no options. Beyond robotics then, their choices are virtually nonexistent.
9. Girls need women technologists as mentors
This is what I call a mixed myth. It’s true that girls thrive with women technologists as mentors. Seeing a woman that is adept at technology or that has made a career of it can help girls visualize their own career path and believe it is possible. But if you take this to the extreme, then it becomes a limiting factor that constrains the number of girls that can enter tech and – at the same time – prevents them from being exposed to male mentors that have much to teach them.
At TechGirlz, we actively seek women technologists that can help advance our girls’ skills and passion. But we also have hundreds of men that also serve as volunteer instructors, and share valuable instruction and become supportive mentors. In order to expand the number of girls inspired by and engaged in technology, organizations must be open to men and women alike as mentors.
10. Women don’t have the stamina for a career in tech
I’m sure we’ve all heard this in some form or another. It’s generic by design and is used to discourage girls before they even get started. Women are too emotional. Mothers can’t be devoted careerists. They are falsehoods from bygone eras that were used to disenfranchise women then and that are being repurposed now to undermine future female technologists. There are examples from women CEOs to political leaders to auto mechanics to fighter pilots that stand as the truth. We teach our girls to find their strength within, to nurture it through the community, and then to shine for others to follow. Not only can our girls build long and successful careers in tech, but the tech industry needs them to do just that.
Be sure to check out the TechGirlz is Celebrating 10,0000 Girlz! page on our website to stay up to date on details about our Techshopz and celebrations around the country on March 3rd.