One of the major themes of DojoCon2013 was girls and women in technology and the conference organisers deliberately had a 50/50 speaker ratio to reflect this. Needless to say, this is virtually unheard of within technology education and industry. Una Fox was a wonderful MC for the day and the highlight of the day was Kimberley Bryant who founded Black Girls Code. Her capstone speech was inspiring, passionate, moving and electrified the audience.
In the stream related to Running a Dojo, I was thrilled to be asked to speak alongside Rebecca Garcia about the CoderDojo Girls Initiative. Rebecca works for the Hello World Foundation and is leading the CoderDojo Girls Initiative by connecting all the dojos who are looking to attract more girls to their dojos through various programs.
— Rebecca Garcia (@geekgirlweb) April 15, 2013
Rebecca spoke about the girls at CoderDojo NYC who have submitted their Android Apps to the finals of the Technovation Challenge. Check out the video pitch the girls submitted for Homework Hippo.
She also spoke about how important it is that as mentors, we should seek to inspire rather than instruct and relayed the story of a nine year old girl at CoderDojo NYC who has trouble paying attention. This girl had no exposure to coding before coming to the dojo yet her parents have told Rebecca how they have never seen their daughter focus on something for such a long period of time. She has since gone on to attend space camp.
Questions and Issues Presented During DojoCon
I spoke about why and how we have setup and run CoderDojo Divas at CoderDojo Limerick and some of the plans we have for the program. We then opened up the session to the room for questions (so I hope I’ve remembered them all here – I’ve also added a couple of queries we’ve received since the conference):
- How did you attract girls to the girls only programs – as well as spreading the word through those already connected to the dojo, we suggested advertising in local press and putting up posters in girls and mixed schools.
- Do you change the content for girl only groups – our take on this was no. Boys and girls can equally work with any of the technologies available at the dojo. There may be differences in how they choose to implement what they learn e.g. different types of applications such as social vs. game play, but we do not intend to teach certain technologies to boys and others to girls.
- Suggestions for cross-gender mentoring – I’ll admit to being stumped by this one on the day and so wasn’t very helpful but having thought about it since here’s another stab at it. While the dojos that have already started girl-only focussed groups or programs are led by female mentors with technical skills, there is no reason that a dojo with a motivated male mentor cannot start a girls only program. We suggested that you try to connect with your members through music or some other relevant pop culture and that is advice that applies to any and all mentors to retain members. Cameron McEfee reminded us at his session later in the day of the importance of treating our members as people, not always thinking of them as kids, address them at their level. Also, many dojos have great teachers who are mentors, who already spend all day every day with children, and it is worth observing how they interact with the members at the dojo and asking their advice about establishing successful mentor relationships.
- How do you reintegrate the girls into the main dojo – the aim for both the NYC and Limerick dojos is to ensure that more girls are coming along to the standard dojo sessions so that stereotypes of the tech industry as a male preserve are broken for both boys and girls. Reintegration is a bridge either of us have yet to cross as these programs are just a few months old. Here are some ideas I have of how we might achieve that (these should be familiar to Paul from the Monaghan dojo 🙂 )
- Remind the girls at every session that they are welcome to come along to the main dojo every time that it runs.
- Run your girls only sessions parallel to the main dojo if possible so they are used to being in the same building or room as the other members.
- Include other members of the dojo in the session when you invite speakers to the girls group so they can chat and learn together. I have plans for speakers from a multinational, LIT, and local tech companies and the invite will be extended to all members of the dojo to come along to hear them if interested as they are not necessarily girl focussed topics but applicable to all interested in technical subject study or careers.
- Create links between our members who are working on similar technologies.
- Help the members create working teams for any competitions that are out there. Between Smart Futures, Coolest Project, CISCO challenge, there is plenty to get them working on and support them to enter these competitions.
My feeling for the Limerick dojo is that ultimately we will continue to run a once a month girls only room as it helps to bring new people into the dojo who previously did not consider coming along. Plus, some children are so busy these days that they can only come along once a month anyway and it means that they will have a stable group within the dojo that they regularly meet without losing touch with the dojo and the group altogether if we disbanded once we think it has served its purpose for our current group.
If you’d like to keep up to date with the CoderDojo Girls Initiative, please join the Google group at http://groups.google.com/group/coderdojogirls
All details of our hangouts and discussion topics have been published there so you can catch up on the conversation and ideas so far. A huge thank you to Rebecca for bringing it all together and inviting me to share the stage with her last weekend. Please add any comments or questions below or feel free to email or tweet us.