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Women in tech: Coding success for girls

Posted on by from Changeboard

According to research by the IET, only 7% of parents feel that STEM careers would appeal to their daughters, whereas for boys, this shoots up to 47%. What can we as a community, as well as businesses, do to change this? Amali de Alwis, CEO of Code First: Girls, reveals how the social enterprise company – along with their growing team of voluntary mentors – are raising awareness and educating more young women into tech careers.

What is Code First: Girls and what is your role as CEO?

Code First: Girls (CF: G) started as a program in a pre-incubator company called Entrepreneur First (EF). They started CF: G as they didn’t have many women with tech backgrounds applying, and it just grew from there. They had so much demand that they decided to split off CF: G from EF last September and I came on board as the new CEO in January.

Now we run training and offer tech talent services at companies, as well as work directly with young women to help increase the proportions of women in tech and entrepreneurship.

As far as my responsibilities and typical day, being a small company there really isn’t anything typical. As my father said when I took on the role: “you’ll be chief executive and chief bottle washer" – which is completely true! Whatever needs doing you get done.

Why do you think there aren’t more women in tech careers?

I think social conditioning during childhood plays a key part. We don’t encourage our young girls to build and play with technology enough, or to think of themselves as future engineers and scientists.

For example, research released earlier this year by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)¹ found that only 7% of parents feel that engineering would appeal to their daughters as a career. Parents of girls said the top suitable careers for girls were things like education and childcare (32%), the arts (29%), healthcare (26%) and hair and beauty (23%). In contrast, parents of boys thought IT (47%), sport (33%) and engineering (28%) were suitable sectors. These types of gender expectations do such a disservice to both our girls and our boys.

There’s no such thing as a non tech company these days. So the question then becomes do we want our young women to sit on the side lines because they don’t understand, or, learn more and become the decision makers of tomorrow. Knowledge is undeniably power.

Source: ¹http://www.theiet.org/policy/media/press-releases/20150330.cfm

How many mentors do you have in your community & how many young people have you helped?

Our community finds mentors in lots of guises. Our 60+ voluntary instructors (who helped us deliver 400+ hours free coding classes last semester alone) are a huge inspiration to our students. We also have our 25-Ones to watch (an initiative to showcase new female talent under the age of 25) community, and other professionals and entrepreneurs who share their valuable experiences with our cohorts through the events we do.

The community members inspire and mentor each other a huge amount too. We have members from such diverse backgrounds, ranging from designers to astrophysicists. So whatever career you’re looking to go into, chances are we have a CF: G who is working in that field already.

We have alumni who have helped other community members get jobs, and others who have shared connections and their own experiences from being a few years ahead in their careers. So if we consider all of those, we probably have a community of 2,000+ smart individuals who have been helped, and then mentor each other.

How do you help young women to build their skills & confidence – and equip them for the world of work?

Our main community activities are training and career related events. We run free coding courses and masterclasses for young women across the UK, ranging from St Andrews to Southampton.

We do events such as ‘hack your career’ evenings, which we've run at companies ranging from JustEat and ASOS to Twitter and Bank of America Merrill Lynch. During these events we take our members in to meet individuals who work across functions in tech related roles (anything from developers to product managers and marketers). This helps them understand more about what the role entails and how those individuals came to do what they do.

Finally our big annual event is our autumn conference. This is an amazing full day event where young women can attend talks and workshops for free, and learn more about what working in tech and being an entrepreneur is about.

How have you helped organisations recruit better tech talent?

We help companies to unpack their recruitment and retention policies. There’s no simple fix, and many companies are desperate for tech talent.

What we do is help them think about what institutional habits might be holding them back, and how changing those cannot only help with their diversity challenges, but also help them hire better and more easily.

How can people get involved in Code First: Girls?

Different ways! We’re a social enterprise, so any profits we make get plugged back in to our free community activities.

If you're a company: You can buy training or advisory services from us, or support our community activities as a sponsor.

If you’re a developer: We’re always open to taking on new instructors and you can also contact us through our website to let us know about your company/yourself so that we can keep you in mind for potential future events. We're also very active on our social feeds, so make sure you keep a check on them too.

Do you have any success stories to share?

So many! For example, Rosie Brigham originally did a history degree, she had no coding experience until 2.5 years ago, and now works as a software developer at Wool and the Gang. Another, Jutta Friden, recently got a product manager & country lead job at GoCardless. And Caroline Wood has used her new skills to set up her own tech business, Clotho.

We really are fortunate to be surrounded by lots of amazing young women doing remarkable things.

Read more testimonials here.

Credit: Code First: Girls

How can business leaders inspire, educate & attract more young women into tech careers?

Lead from the front. Include more women on your boards and at all levels of your company and management teams. If you’re struggling to find women across levels, follow an old adage – ‘if you want things to be different, you have to do things differently’. This means taking a long hard look at how you currently recruit, retain and promote your people, and taking steps to try and change old habits.

Don’t feel afraid to be transparent, even if you don’t think you’re very good at diversity. Very few people are, we’re all in this together, and by sharing our challenges as well as successes we can learn a lot from each other.

What’s next for Code First: Girls?

We’re growing both our community and corporate activities which is very exciting!

More courses mean more young women who we can support in their careers, and more work with companies means we can help improve the workplaces for these young women to potentially go into. It’s a totally symbiotic relationship and reflects our commitment to being a self-sustaining social enterprise.

Sarah Clark

By Sarah Clark

Changeboard

Online features editor at Changeboard

Changeboard

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