Parents, Mentors, Society Matter Most for Girls to Enjoy ICT
In the opening introduction of this debate, I suggested that the absence of girls’ excitement around ICT in schools and the rarity of women in ICT careers was universal throughout the developing world. That in every country, boys were the most interested in “geeking out” and superseded women in the higher levels of the ICT industry. Thankfully, this misconception was exposed quickly by commenters.
indicated that girls contributed up to five times as much in an online discussion compared to an offline discussion. If anything, this would suggest that the perception of boys being dominant in all areas of IT is perhaps outdated or outmoded!
In addition, the ICT is field not male dominated around the world. Ingotian shared this interesting observation:
I was at a government Open Source conference in Malaysia last November. One thing that was striking was that women were in a majority. This seems to indicate that culture makes a significant difference.
Yet there is an observable hurtle to having an equal gender balance in the usage of ICT in education and the resulting make-up of ICT industry populations. As Alexa Joyce pointed out in the study which started this debate, most girls ‘drop out’ of ICT studies once they reach middle or high school. While a distaste for maths or physics can be one issue, there is a large, social influence: role models.
Girls, compared to boys, are more influenced by role models in their environment – whether ‘close’ role models such as parents, teachers and family or ‘distant’ role models such as famous actresses and musicians. It is clear that the lack of ICT-oriented role models is a dissuading factor for girls: their role models don’t see ICT tertiary studies or ICT careers as female-friendly and this attitude impacts negatively on the girls that look up to them.
Both Brooke Partridge and Karen Coppock pointed to strong early role models, both family and professional, as inspiration for achievement in the ICT sector. In particular were female role models, to which they could relate.
Then Ed Gable gave us what I think is the most powerful example of how role moles can be agents for change:
I visited a vocational school on the island of Biak, in Indonesia, recently. That school has a strong ICT program, enrolling about 30% of the school’s total number of students. In its first year, participation by girls was about 20 percent. In the second year, the program’s local consultant selected a woman teacher as the head of the ICT effort. By the third year, about 55% of students enrolled were girls.
In addition to role models, we should also expand our expectations on ICT usage. Women need not be in the ICT field to be leaders in ICT usage. As Clayton R Wright reminded us, ICT is a cross-cutting technology:
I must hasten to add that if women are shown how ICTs can impact their daily lives (by providing health advice, sources of materials that can be used to make goods, the price of goods in local markets, etc.), they are more likely to be interested in using ICTs – particularly simple devices such as mobile phones.
And girls do not need to specialize in ICT itself to become excited about technology or participate in the industry during their careers. Just take Brooke Partridge‘s conclusion as an example:
As hard as I try to link ICT into this posting, I keep getting pulled back into the “softer” issues of professional development as the areas that allowed my growth in a career centered in ICT. The industries of ICT are inherently exciting, fast-growing, and full of opportunity. So, as long as girls and young women get exposure to ICT in their education and daily lives, it will be a natural place for them to land professionally.
Most hopeful, there are multiple programs looking to increase girls’ excitement around using ICT and women’s participation in ICT in all industries. Alexa Joyce detailed how these programs are coaching girls to be the next generation of trend setters. In the mean time, Karen Coppock reminded us that even today, there are women in ICT to look up to:
In the almost two decades since I began my career, more and more women have broken through the technology leadership glass ceiling to even more prominent roles – Carly Fiorina’s leading HP, Margaret Whitman running eBay and Carol Bartz at the helm of Autodesk and now Yahoo. Unfortunately women CEOs of large tech firms are still relatively rare, especially in emerging markets, but they are appearing more and more often.