Why girls don’t code

girls-don't-code

Why aren’t there more girls who work in roles where they have to code?

Girls don’t code. Is this a common misconception or is it a reality? How many females do you know who work in IT? How many of these are Programmers/Developers/Coders or are they predominantly Business Analysts and Project Managers? (Disclaimer: Please note that I do not dispute that CAN code, the aim of this Blog is to look at WHY girls DON’T code.)

Zandile Keebine, the Chairwoman of GirlCode, www.girlcodeza.co.za, asked me to write a Blog on this highly contested topic. We first met on Twitter (their handle is @GirlCode_ZA) and we have been chatting about how to get more Ladies into Coding for a while now. As a seasoned IT Sourcer and Full Life Cycle Recruiter with 10 years’ experience, I am going to try and shed some light on why girls don’t code.

At this juncture, I would like to highlight that this is not a problem that’s unique to South Africa or even Africa for that matter. This is a global problem and there are several initiatives in the majority of First World Countries to encourage more Ladies to get into careers that involve coding. Bonnie Horbach, Consul General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, asked me to join Inspiring Fifty SA as a judge. Bonnie created #cocreateSA which aims to foster relationships between the Netherlands and SA. The mandate of the consulate general is to promote inclusive Economic growth. Bonnie saw an opportunity to bring Inspiring Fifty to Africa and thereby creating a platform for African female talent locally and globally. Learn more about Inspiring Fifty South African here: http://www.inspiringfifty.com/za/

In my humble opinion, the bottom line as to why so few females go into a career in coding is as follows:

  • It is believed that by the time girls are 13 years of age, they are already not interested in the traditional STEM subjects. (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Females don’t seem to have a natural flair or affinity for these subjects as they are often perceived as being boring and to contain ‘foreign’ subject matter to females. You will often find that girls opt for subjects that are more personable, or involve people, and the world around us. Some examples of these Humanity subjects include Geography, History, Biology etc. A lot of females also prefer to study a second or third language (that is a spoken, not a coding language!). I think more needs to be done at a Primary level to make the STEM subjects more interesting to females so they choose these subjects more willingly at High School.
  • There is a definite lack of female role models in the IT industry. If you were to ask anyone what a Computer Programmer looks like you would probably get one, or a combination of the following answers:
  • A male
  • Wears glasses
  • Hangs out in dark rooms
  • Likes computer games

This, unfortunately, doesn’t inspire bright young female minds to pursue a career in coding now, does it? Also, if you look at the way Programmers are depicted in movies they are often Uber Geeks who start off being bullied by the Cool Kids. Now think about it and be honest – would you rather have been a Geek or a Cool Kid when you were in your Teens?

We must all play a part in this as a society to dispel this stereotyping.

  • Young girls need successful women to look up to, and to want to emulate when they join the working world. Unfortunately, there are very few females who have or can be classed as a pioneering Disruptor in the IT space to date. Women are more likely to be seen as a nurturing and caring profile as opposed to the ground-breaking, ‘take no prisoners’ male business profile.
  • The feedback from women who are perceived to have ‘made it’ in the IT space is also sending young girls mixed messages. They are constantly crusading for more women to join them in the upper echelons of the IT world, but there is also always lots of ‘noise’ in the media about the salary differences between males and females in the IT industry. Would young girls be encouraged to join this industry if they felt they would be on the back foot from the outset when it came to month end? Also, women who have ‘made it’ are also prone to harp on about what a hard road it was that they have travelled. They often share horror stories of males taking the glory for their ideas and having to work twice as hard as their male counterparts to earn the same amount of respect around the boardroom table. Maybe these top females need to think about the impact that their words may have on young females wanting to enter the IT Space?

Hell yes, girls can code as well as their male counterparts if not better! So how can young females break this stigma?

Girls need to be encouraged to start developing the engineering side of their brains from a younger age. We should not be buying gender-specific toys for boys and girls. Let me give you an example of what I mean by this statement. For a 5 year old girls’ birthday, you would probably purchase something pink and fluffy right? Maybe a baby doll or a kitchen set of plastic teacups for her to host her own tea parties? And for a 5 year old boys’ birthday – would it be a toy car? Or a puzzle? Or some Lego? Yet we wonder why teenage males are more likely to take the toaster apart when teenage females are more interested in what they are wearing, or what their friends think of them. I know I am grossly stereotyping teenage males and females here but I am doing it to get my point across!

So as a specialized Technical Sourcer, I would love to see more females getting in touch with me to assistant them to find exciting and new roles. This is not for BB-BEEE points but because women add another dimension to IT as they bring a different approach to problem-solving. Women think differently to men. Women also often have a different way of approaching an IT problem which may change the outcome of the project for the better.

To end off this blog (rant) I thought I may offer some suggestions for women to be more successful in the IT Space:

  • Do not give up. Ever.
  • If you feel that you are being treated differently to your male counterparts, approach them, tell them how you feel. Do not be the doormat – you have a voice so use it. If this fails, chat with your HR Team, they may be able to assist you.
  • Find a mentor, or several, during your IT career. Use these people to guide you and to assist you to continuously do better.
  • Stick to your guns – if you love Maths and your best friend doesn’t don’t just drop the subject as you want to spend more time with your best friend.
  • Get involved with Women in Tech communities. I can highly recommend Geekulcha’s female arm, Raeketsa.
  • I would also start following Women in Tech ZA run by Robyn Farah. They host free monthly meetups with some great speakers from the Tech Space. You can find them on Twitter here @womenintechza
  • Finally, there is a great weekly chat on Twitter, called #womenintechchat hosted by @WomeninTechChat founded by @TiffanyHoran. They chat about some awesome topics and would appreciate your input.
  • For general Job Advice, join us on a Monday at 16h00 on #JobAdviceSA. I, (@Van_Raath) host a chat with @TimJBarry, @ElzetteFourie and @WeszMadz to help with any job-related questions you may have. You can find us on @JobAdviceSA or http://jobadvicesa.co.za/

I hope that this blog has assisted you in understanding why girls don’t code. Again, I reiterate, girls CAN code but we need to spark their interest in coding at a young age and nurture their development in this space. Please feel free to get in touch with me on LinkedIn or on Twitter as I am happy to talk about how to get more Women into the Tech Space ALL day! I am also open to speaking opportunities around this topic as it really is something that I am passionate about you can contact me here.