Women and girls play a critical role in shaping future technology and innovation, but our research shows that the pipeline to build female talent in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields is broken.
Young girls are losing interest in STEM subjects at an early age. The reasons girls stray from STEM are many, from peer pressure to a lack of role models and support to a general misperception of what STEM careers look like in the real world and how these skills can help unlock their wildest ambitions.
Through She Can Code, girls, women and non-binary people around the country had the chance to explore coding, robotics and computer science through hands on workshops and to meet young women in tech who were shattering stereotypes. As they looked to the future, they also learned from the past.
The experiential Ada.Ada.Ada show tells the story of Ada Lovelace who wrote the world’s first complex computer program in 1843. The story, which includes audience participation in simulating simple computer programming, is aided by a LED dress containing 4,400 lights and operated live on stage with a wearable tech satin glove. It engaged audiences from Christchurch to Kerikeri and Waimate to Wairoa, demonstrating the creativity and collaboration enabled by technology.
“Without a female influence in STEM fields – which are at the heart of modern innovation – we risk having hundreds of thousands of jobs left unfilled and decades of innovation absent of female perspectives,” said Anne Taylor, Microsoft New Zealand’s Education Lead.
“We’re thrilled to partner with Digital Future Aotearoa to bring these types of opportunities to girls in rural and remote communities in New Zealand,” she said.
Not only did She Can Code participants get to learn about Ada’s story and play with some cool technology, the event series also connected them with role models.
“You can’t be, what you can’t see,” says Lucretia Dobrec. Dobrec, a first-year intern at Microsoft understands this challenge more than most. The first from her family to earn a university degree, Lu is committed to opening the eyes of young women coming up behind her about the possibilities of a career in tech.
“Technology has opened so many doors for me. All girls, regardless of where they live, or what their personal circumstance, should have that chance.”
Lu runs the local Microsoft DigiGirlz programme, which gives intermediate and high school girls opportunities to learn about careers in technology and to connect with Microsoft and tech industry employees. Recognising the power of partnership, Lu helped scale the initiative this year ten-fold by working with people and organisations already creating positive change in local communities.
“Ask me anything,” was a popular refrain at the event in Wairoa. And, “anything” is exactly the types of questions she received. From advice on pursuing animation, to specific questions about Surface hardware, to what programme to learn after Scratch (and more than a few about the free jellybeans!), Lu and her fellow intern Venus Tarre, patiently and enthusiastically answered questions and provided guidance to a steady stream of girls who may not have previously considered tech a possibility for them.
“There’s just so many opportunities of things you can go into. I did not know any of these things existed!” said a year 13 student from Timaru after learning to use code to create music.
And, that’s the point of programmes like these, says Michael Trengrove, Founder and CEO of Digital Future Aotearoa. “We exist to give every kiwi kid the opportunity to learn to code, no matter who or where they are.”
“We can’t afford to leave half the population behind. This issue will have tremendous impact on the health of our economy and the diversity in future innovation if we don’t act now,” he said.
She Can Code demonstrated that we can act now. One girl at a time.
At the close of the Ada.Ada.Ada. show, “Ada” asks every attendee to recite, “If Ada can, I can.” “If Ada can, I can!”
Seeing a theatre full of young people jumping from their seats to join in the affirmation should give us all confidence that Ada Lovelace isn’t the only famous female computer programmer we’ll all soon know.
Want to attend the next event? Find out about other educational events and stories Microsoft Education are involved with by liking and following @MicrosoftEduNZ