Girls are just as likely as boys to create the next generation of technology that brings people together to solve the world’s biggest problems, the chief executive of Microsoft UK has said.
Cindy Rose told an audience of more than 150 schoolgirls that when it comes to digital innovation and creativity, “anyone can do it”.
“Every day, girls are using technology just as much as boys, and we have seen today that they are just as interested in using it to create amazing things, too,” Rose said at DigiGirlz, a Microsoft event that aims to encourage young women to get involved in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
“The popularity of messaging apps and social media shows youngsters of both genders already understand the benefits of using technology to connect and collaborate. These will be vital tools when tackling future problems that affect the world.
“Governments, businesses and schools still have work to do to make sure girls have the same opportunities in the STEM sector as boys; but Microsoft is committed to its mission to empower everyone on the planet to achieve more, regardless of who they are or where they are from.”
Around 160 girls aged 12 and 13 from 19 schools across England took part in the ninth annual DigiGirlz event at Microsoft’s UK headquarters in Reading.
The pupils heard from Microsoft cloud solution architect Claudia Lopez, live campaign producer Christina Parker – who explained how she started her career at video game company Rare Studios – and former apprentices Abbie Sweeney and Sophie Ware.
The girls were also challenged to come up an idea for an app, and film their plan using phones and Surface Pro 4s.
The team from Larkmead School, in Abingdon, suggested an app called My Beat that helped people create their own music; Chiltern Edge School, in Reading, proposed a fitness aid called Fit Friends that lets people earn points as they exercised; while The Holt School, in Wokingham, worked on an augmented reality game that placed questions in the real world.
Girls from Highdown School, in Reading, took first prize with their “Back of the Fridge” app that suggested recipes based on ingredients people had in their kitchen.
Highdown pupil Azalea North, 12, said DigiGirlz “gave me the idea that I could have a career in tech if I wanted to”.
“We have IT lessons but not many girls seem to like them. I think it’s because they believe STEM is for boys, but that’s not true. DigiGirlz has shown us that there have been lots of female inventors, and almost all the speakers today were women. This will make me focus more on IT.”
Fellow pupil Mia Carter, 12, said DigiGirlz had shown her that “girls can make a difference”.
“The event gave me confidence that I could do that [have a career in STEM]. Cindy [Rose] really appealed to me, she was really into tech. It would be cool to work for Microsoft.”
According to WISE, a campaign to promote women in science, technology and engineering, the proportion of the STEM workforce made up by women has fallen from 22% to 21% since 2015. The group urged more action in schools to reverse this trend.
Elizabeth Nakimbugwe, a computing teacher at Prospect School in Reading, agreed there was a gender divide in STEM education but said events like DigiGirlz had encouraged more of her female pupils to get involved in the sector.
“There are two girls in my sixth form studying computer science at A-Level and 12 boys. I think it’s a role model problem. We need more girls coming into school to talk about STEM.
“DigiGirlz is a big deal for our girls, it’s very inspiring for them. The ones who come to this event end up studying computer science GCSE.”
The girls try out Just Dance on the Xbox
Anne Muller, an IT teacher at Queen Anne’s School in Reading, said there was a “cultural barrier that we are only just breaking down”.
“There is a job to be done still and it’s a question of mindset. Some girls are treading gently in that direction and they are the trailblazers, saying ‘I can do this’.
“At DigiGirlz, Microsoft is interested in their ideas and they are given credibility and value; it’s a ‘join the team’ mentality. Attending this event is seen as a privilege among our pupils.”
To learn more about apprenticeships, internships and graduate programs at Microsoft, visit www.beyourfuture.net.