Emily Jenkins speaks at CogX as part of London Tech Week

Emily Jenkins is a Girlguiding Advocate and an A-level student. In the last 6 years, she has gone from someone who was terrified of the idea of a job in technology, to someone who is applying for a Computer Science degree at Oxford University. What brought along this change? Read her story.

Firstly, as someone who has been a member of Girlguiding for 10 years, I’m going to talk a little about what this organisation does to encourage young girls to speak out and learn new skills such as computing, and how their new research is changing the way we see the gender gap in technology.

Girl guiding is a girl led organisation and is only for girls. This is so members are free to be themselves away from the pressures and challenges they may face in their daily life, and this decision has been voted for by the girls themselves.

We’re huge – 400,000 girls are part of girl guiding, including me. This includes girls as young as 5 who are rainbows, to 18 years olds who are rangers. And we are also for all girls – we welcome girls of all faith and no faith, and we support our volunteers to make guiding a safe space for LGBT members too.

Girl Guiding, like the Computing sector, has some stereotypes that often don’t cover the full picture.   Whilst I do love the badges and the camping trips, we’re so much more. Girlguiding is about empowering girls to speak out. Recently we campaigned on period poverty because the Advocate panel, which I am on, wanted to do something about it, and despite the government being a bit busy, they have promised to provide free sanitary products to all primary and secondary schools by 2020.

Girlguiding have recently had a revamp, and one of the main areas they changed was their approach to STEM. Girls of all ages can now to badges and activities encouraging them to begin their own blog, design a website, and have a go at digital design, among other activities. One area we are particularly interested in is introducing girls to AI, and show them how they could get involved in pushing the boundaries of this new tech.

But why is it so important to inspire girls to get involved in technology? And in an age where equality between sexes is at its highest yet, why do we still need to care?

Firstly, because we are not equal. At the beginning of this year, only 20% of IT jobs were held by females, and I believe one of the main reasons for this is that girls see computing as a club they cannot join.

Every year Girlguiding does a Nation-wide Girls Attitudes Survey, covering girls aged 7 to 25 of all backgrounds, in order to gain an insight on what girls truly believe. The result is shocking, but not surprising.

In 2009, only 35% of girls aged 11-16 said they enjoyed computer science, and last year this dropped to 26%. As a 16 year old myself, I would say even fewer of my year are interested in the subject, and I am one of 3 girls in my year, at an all girls school, who are even considering a degree in computing. 

These girls are at GCSE age, and if they don’t take the subject now, then it is likely they won’t receive any more computing training after 14. Two years ago, the BBC found that only a fifth of computing GCSE candidates were female, and our survey found that a third of girls said stereotypes and the believe that the subject was for boys put them off. If this isn’t solved, then the workplace will continue to loose people who would otherwise make valuable advancements in technology, or at least apply their computing knowledge to any other job.

So how do we solve this? Summarised, the answer is quite simple- destroy the stereotypes.

When girls are no longer afraid of being labelled and shamed, they will be able to choose the subjects they truly love, unaffected by outside factors. When just under half of young women in our survey said they wanted greater representation of women in STEM, it is evident it should happen. This room is full of incredible women who have achieved huge successes in their industry- we just need to tell the world their stories.

As you all know, technology is not just about cool, hard logic, but also creative thinking, expression, communication- it is one of the most skill-diverse jobs there is. And not only do we need to show this, but we also need to highlight that both genders have an equal capacity to fulfil these skills, and therefore an equal chance to succeed in the workplace.

As a young women, I can see that this change has already started. Although interest has dropped among girls of secondary school age, 43% of girls aged 7-10 said they enjoyed the subject last year, up from 19% a decade ago. This is due to organisations like Girlguiding introducing new activities to show a different side of technology to children, as well as kids apps focused on fun coding entering the app store. As these children grow up, we need to help them keep their new interest and make sure they aren’t held back by stereotypes.

At 11, I was terrified of going into technology, as I held the very wrong belief that the boys would know much more then me. Fortunately, I found a free course on AI for girls, and I absolutely loved it. I may have simply moved on to another hobby, but then the NCSC released some cyber security courses for girls, and after attending one, I, like the other speaker, took part in the Cyber first girls competition- although sadly my team did not win. I then took computer science for my GCSE, achieved a 9, and from then on, I was sold.

I would never have considered my current degree choice if it hadn’t been for two things: Girlguiding, for teaching me to love science and try new things, and new initiatives for giving me my spark. The connection? They are both aimed at girls.

Yes, boys deserve encouragement and support too, but no girl should ever miss on her dream career because someone tod her “No” when she was 7, or because everyone on TV who uses a computer is a man.

In the future, I want to be able to tell a young girl about this panel, and for her to laugh at me in astonishment, because she cannot imagine a world where men and women are put off their dreams by a label, and where there are no women in computing.

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