As more and more organisations make a stand for women in technology, we spoke to Vodafone’s HR Business Partner, Kirstie Anderson about its #CodeLikeAGirl programme and how it’s creating future opportunities for girls.
From Augusta Ada King (1815-1852), the first acknowledged computer programmer, to Radia Perlman, the internet pioneer, women have played an influential role in science and technology for centuries. Yet, they’ve never received the recognition they deserve. Even today, the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) industry is seen as a man’s world.
It’s because of this stereotype that women are so underrepresented in STEM, and why girls with a passion for the subject don’t pursue it as a life choice. Just 35% of girls enter further education in STEM subjects; a statistic that Vodafone are determined to change.
Promise on the horizon
This disparity has led to the launch of several initiatives, which are united in their common goal to challenge STEM misconceptions and close the gender gap for good.
Take Stemettes, for instance. The award-winning social enterprise works across the UK and Ireland to inspire and raise awareness of STEM as a career prospect for girls and young women. Through an innovative mix of panel events, hackathons, exhibitions and mentoring schemes, it’s already reached an incredible 40,000 young people.
So, how is Vodafone joining the effort to transform the STEM industry?
In 2017, Vodafone launched its #CodeLikeAGirl programme in partnership with Code First: Girls to offer girls aged fourteen to eighteen with a free, four-day coding workshop. We caught up with HR Business Partner for Corporate Functions at Vodafone, Kirstie Anderson about the programme and the inspiration behind the code:
“This is the second year that Vodafone has run [#CodeLikeAGirl] as a Global initiative across twenty-six countries. We run [it] to raise awareness to young girls that we need female coders and web developers, to build confidence in females who feel like they can’t do a job in technology and to inspire students with a range of opportunities of STEM careers available to them,” explained Kirstie.
The workshop teaches girls basic knowledge of computer languages and development programmes so, at the end of the four days, they’re able to build a website from scratch. It proves to them that when it comes to STEM, their gender is not a barrier. And, it’s the encouragement they need to use their new-found skills and confidence in further education and beyond.
This interactive approach “made coding fun and accessible,” said Jennie, who attended one of this year’s #CodeLikeAGirl events. “Learning it elsewhere can be confusing and complicated. I attended it for a chance to learn about a possible workplace for my future, and a chance to meet people like me.”
In it together
#CodeLikeAGirl would not be the success it is without the passionate and driven people who run it. The organisers, volunteers and attendees showcase the power of a community, and what can be achieved when multiple voices are heard as one.
“Everyone who volunteered understood that we need more women in technology and that is why they gave up four days of doing their day jobs to give something back to these students,” Kirstie told us. When speaking about her experience working with the volunteers, attendee Teja said, “everyone offered helpful perspectives, which I wouldn’t have got through learning alone. It really felt like a team effort, which made the workshop informative and entertaining.”
Although Vodafone’s #CodeLikeAGirl programme aims to challenge the view that only men can do STEM, many of the girls were also under the impression that to code, prior computing knowledge is needed – a misconception that the team were eager to debunk.
“I had a common perception that to work in the IT industry, you had to know computing. I didn’t know that there are many options in the sector that cater to various talents, such as marketing, design and finance,” revealed Teja. And, as Jennie discovered, “even the best coders don’t know everything.”
As innovation becomes increasingly dependent on STEM, we can’t sit back and watch girls write it off as a career before they’ve even set foot outside the classroom, or watch women in the industry fade into the background. For whatever reason – whether social or cultural – STEM has created a name for itself; one that girls can’t identify with. This is why it’s so important for organisations, like Vodafone, to champion women and their capabilities, and STEM and its accessibility.
We asked Kirstie her thoughts: “We should be role models to students who don’t know what they want to do or don’t have the confidence to apply to certain jobs. It’s our responsibility to give these students the insights and opportunities so that they can thrive when they leave school or university.”
These insights don’t stop at #CodeLikeAGirl. “Currently we run a week-long work experience, called Ignite. We’re thinking about introducing a coding course on the final day to get students who have never tried coding to learn the basics,” said Kirstie.
And, as for the girls and their plans for the future: “The programme has definitely improved my confidence in coding and has made sure that I’ll carry on throughout school and higher education,” said Jennie. Teja “realised that there are many different options, aside from the typical university degree, since Vodafone offer apprenticeships and graduate schemes, which can be exciting as you get a salary and experience immediately after college or university.”
For the second year in a row, Vodafone has been named one of The Times Top 50 Employers for Women. To find out how they’re championing and nurturing female talent, why not hear from the women themselves? Be inspired as they reveal their unique experiences of the tech industry, and how they overcame the challenge of being the minority.