GUEST BLOG: How creative computing will help narrow the gender gap

In this contributed blog post Lee Scott, creative computing subject leader at Bath Spa University, explains how utilising creative computing technologies could help encourage more girls into science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem).

You would now be hard placed to find an industry that doesn’t list basic digital skills as a prerequisite for entering the workforce, and having IT based qualifications is no longer just a requirement for those in specific ‘techy’ roles.

This is an exciting time, with the collision of the technology and creative industries happening right in front of us. We can now consider historians bringing the past to life through 3D visualisation and English Literature graduates developing publishing apps whilst editing magazines as a real possibility. Not to mention teachers who are able to code and film studies students producing their own games. This is creative computing in practice, something which I am very passionate about.

However for this momentum to continue and the UK to stay competitive, we all need to have access to these crucial skills and the role of digital needs to become common place in education and the curriculum. We need to inspire the next generation of coders, animators and app developers in order to create a sound workforce fit for purpose. This especially applies to young women, who are currently hugely underrepresented in careers that involve computing.

Currently, women make up a mere 17.5% of ICT professionals in the UK, a shockingly small percentage. So how do we encourage more to enter the industry? One way is to rethink how we introduce computing to young learners.

It is surprising how much emphasis education – from primary to undergraduate level – places on process, and in teaching programming through abstract exercises and logic drills. Presenting computing in this way renders it drab and inaccessible to many. It is so much easier to generate excitement around computing by emphasising and working towards its creative end products, like games, interactive stories, intuitive websites and locative apps.

In recent years, a lot of great work has been undertaken by Government and organisations to break down the barriers that exist around programming. We know there is a misconception that learning to code requires strong maths skills, which often puts off people who are more creatively-minded – both male and female alike.

As one of my students said, “learning to code is more like learning a language, the perception that it has to be complicated and maths-heavy is outdated.”

She’s absolutely right – we need to find ways of detaching such stigma from computing if we want to inspire the next generation of creative technologists.

The introduction of coding in primary schools is a big step forward and one I very much welcome.  We’re still losing girls interest in year 8 or 9 largely due to gender stereotyping, however as digital skills become further integrated into the curriculum in the next few years, my hope is that this will soon become a thing of the past.

At Bath Spa University, we have joined the conversation by launching our campaign #ThisGirlCodes to encourage more women into the tech industry. Our vision is that the children currently learning to code on Raspberry Pi devices in primary school, will in the future not think about ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ jobs when deciding their future career but instead be empowered to choose an industry that they enjoy and tailor their technological skills to whatever path they choose, without prejudice.

Pledge your support for a gender balanced, technology savvy future for everyone – #ThisGirlCodes