Technology in Schools: Why do girls get turned off?

Elineen Brown

Eileen Brown, Evangelism Manager, Microsoft

My Thoughts

A nice keynote (ie; longer talk) about why science careers might not be taken up by women, and what Microsoft are doing about it.


A huge issue getting girls into technology, and she has her own stories of how she was not going to do it.

Microsoft is maturing – average age now over 30, rather then 20 when it started.

Everyone wants to go into cool, so clinical pathology was most popular from CSI-style programs. IT related programs have no cool female role models.

13,000 – what does this represent to Microsoft? The number of unfilled positions at Microsoft. Not enough qualified people in the world to meet the demands of IT companies. Technology qualifications – many people get in without them. No inspiring things in school for IT herself, and went into the sea business. Only a latecomer to IT. The sea business had a pen and paper schedular – put it on Lotus123, and then they moved her to the IT team to put it on the mainframe. A big change.

As for games, avatars are made for men – big bosoms. Girls play games, but don’t have a good choice of realistic avatars. There are huge barriers early on at 5. “Boys shouldn’t go in the toy house, girls shouldn’t play with the boys” etc. From 11 also has more barriers, girls just not interested in technology, although teachers recognising the stereotypes more now.

The evolution of games has also changed – rock/paper/scissors – really a maths game. Adventure games, exploration.

Guy geek parties are all about showing off, while girl geek parties are about participation and discussion. Give girls adventure games to participate together!

Shooters – Doom came along, taking over the business networks. Not enjoyed by her.

Consoles – Hardware advantages, had a leg up on PC’s especially early on so had a core advantage. Around that time, became a computer trainer teaching people how to use a mouse and do drag and drop. Used solitaire – nice mind numbing game which is easy to play.

Final cool thing about games is it’s gameplay, strategy, stories and so on. Women like to tell a story, men don’t flow well in conversation usually, so can write a good story. Myst and Halo were both very popular.

The problem with the games industry

Someone who takes advice and does her school work, how does she get into the games industry? at 15 you don’t have very much confidence at all. A lot of girls don’t have the motivation or confidence to go do something they might want to. How do you move forward when the men hold the controller in the house?

MYTH: Computer science careers are just for men. It drops from 50% at 10, 20% at 16 and 10% at 18. It drops to a few percent for university applicants.
FACT: Everyone has a voice shaping technology trends. Women are influential in technology, it’s just less realised. The US don’t have a positive discrimination towards women but are happy to hire them, so a lot of jobs in the first part of the decade were taken by women. Need to increase postdoctoral and professors who are women.

Why leave the industry? (Huge drop off at the age of 40)

Survey done – answer to the opinion: “Other women are more likely to see me as ‘geeky’ because I work in technology” – answers like “I’d rather be a geek then a shelf stacker”. “Other women are more in awe of what I do!” – women are the key people who help encourage people into the industry. There is a seen glass ceiling, so less encouragement on the basis women might hit that. Need influential role models, especially to girls at school.

Women in games?

Women like games, but online and social ones. To get more game playing women, need more games for them. A more diverse workforce, allows more diverse games.

Lisa Bidder – at school, a 22-sized course in computing done by a female Maths teacher for girls. 220 applied! – test was done, she got in. She couldn’t get a job in IT, so went into admin (resisting secretarial work). Then saw the games their kids played. Is an Xbox MVP now. You hit brick walls, especially with careers teachers, so without a lot of effort and determination you can’t get towards the job.

Girl Gamer – liked good game play and a great story. Games that enable fantasy (Rock Band, Guitar Hero), card and board online games, and can connect with the boys playing sport games.

Digigirls – to get an idea on why women don’t want to do it, met up with some girl gamers. Situation is women represents 46% of the UK workforce, and is only 18% of IT professionals. 17% of those starting computer science degrees are women, the majority from oversees, especially asia – why? The numbers are also declining, women at 40 leaving the jobs in droves.

200 girls meetup of all girls, so show them all the cool technology. They use the technology (a ton of social networking sites). Give them some tools, to make an advert for girls. Not a scalable solution, only about 10 will go into it in total. Feedback; they didn’t really like the presentation, but did enjoy the interactive bits (windows movie maker and videocamera work). A lot of energy, but where to go from here? How to get it around the country?

It should be the responsibility of everybody to rectify it.

Everyone has a mobile, uses the websites, but don’t care about how they work.

Lack of female perspective is a real problem – not only in computer games. Angioplasty – heart stint too big for women. Xbox controller originally designed much too big. In cars, raise/lower controls team lead by women.

Should become a technology ambassador to persuade women. Microsoft is running it’s own things, such as the imagine cup. Students can download the software, especially XNA game studio available.

Q’s: What about a specific women competition for XNA?
Will contact the XNA person, but gender specific competitions are not normally done in Microsoft, although point about positive discrimination competitions being a possibility.
Q’s: Specific bursaries and work placements?
Nothing specific for Microsoft bursaries. However there is always internships.
Q’s: Career re-entry? Move into Microsoft from other industries? Active recruitment along those lines?
Some partners help women to catch up to technology skills. Confidence skills more then technology skills. The partner network does this rather then Microsoft.

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