At what age does gender bias occur towards computing?
Computer scientists are “friendless, isolated and nerdy”, according to the 13 year-old girls in this Guardian article. But at what age does this gender bias occur? The 8-10 year-olds in my weekly Code Club show no signs of gender bias towards STEM subjects. At this age children seem huge proponents of fairness. The odd time I’ve inadvertently alluded to a gender stereotype, the kids have looked at me blankly.
Without realising it, our perceptions of ‘what people in tech look like’ are generic and outdated; we’re all guilty of it. I recently attended a STEMnet Ambassadors workshop where we were asked to get into groups and draw a web developer. Our group drew a stubbly bro, clad in an ironic t-shirt and cargo pants, hunched over a stickered computer. Despite groups being an equal split of genders, all groups drew a man without giving it a second thought.
So what do coders look like – when you’re 10?
I decided to test this out on a group of Year 5s and gave them five minutes to “draw a coder”. Aside from totally out-classing me on the illustration front, the children drew a mixture of genders. Girls mainly drew girls, boys drew boys and some drew non-gender specific people. Rather than “geek” or “nerd” they wrote positive things like having fun and working together.
It’s intriguing that within a window of 2-3 years girls’ attitudes to computing appear to change so profoundly. Surely stereotypes in films and media are to blame? The evil hacker in his underground lair? The geeky nerd at school who no-one wants to be mates with? In this age of social media scrutiny no-one wants to grow up to become these social misfits or hang out with them. It’s scary how misrepresented the industry is in mainstream media.
As a designer working mainly on startup projects, I am regularly the only lady on the team. It would be nice if this wasn’t the norm when my Code Clubbers join industry. We owe it to the kids to embrace our inner 10 year-old and discourage these stupid stereotypes.