Women and girls need to be able to receive appropriate and relevant training in computer programming at all levels, or they will miss out on numerous employment opportunities across the technology sector. Many initiatives have therefore specifically been designed to teach girls, especially from poor or marginalised backgrounds, to code. Among the better known of these include iamtheCODE, founded by Mariéme Jamme, and the much more recent African Girls can Code initiative, established by the African Union Commission (AUC), UN Women and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in 2018.
However, girls and women will remain systematically disadvantaged unless they continue to access equal opportunities to those available to men as their careers develop. Evidence (see below, and based on our own practical experience) suggests that all too often workshops on computer programming are biased towards men. Our guidance note therefore provides advice for those running such workshops on six simple things that they can do to help include women and girls in such workshops, as well as a checklist of six things to be avoided. Workshops can also be occasions when women and girls feel threatened or harassed, and the guidance note therefore provides a reminder that any such inappropriate behaviour should be swiftly addressed.
Six things to do if you are convening a computer programming workshop
- As far as possible ensure an equal balance between men and women as invited trainers and speakers.
- If it is intended to be a mixed gender workshop, seek to ensure an equal balance between women and men as participants.
- Ensure equal access for women and men to all shared material and equipment, before, during and after the workshop.
- Ensure that all sub-groups within the workshop have mixed genders within them and every member has equal rights to speak up and participate.
- Ensure that there are guidelines on expected behaviour that specifically address sexual harassment.
- Be pro-active if you see inappropriate behaviour.
Six things to avoid if you are convening a computer programming workshop
- Permitting or condoning inappropriate sexual behaviour by participants, trainers, speakers, or sponsors during the workshop.
- Only inviting men to be speakers or trainers.
- Only choosing men to participate in the workshop if it is intended to be open to all genders.
- Only granting male participants access to shared materials and equipment during the workshop.
- Separating men and women into two groups with unequal access to resources during the workshop.
- Doing nothing if you see inappropriate behaviour.
This Guidance Note (first version February 2018) was prepared by Paul Spiesberger and is available for downloading (.pdf format) in ENGLISH here, po POLSKU tutaj (translated by Marcin Czubak), and en ESPAÑOL aquí (translated by Silvana Cordero)
Useful material relating in various ways to gender bias in computer coding courses includes:
- Maine, S. (2018) Why women are better at coding than men, alphr.
- Medel, P. and Pournaghshband, V. (2017) Eliminating gender bias in computer science education materials, SIGCSE’17, Seattle, DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/3017680.3017794
- Posner, M. (2017) We can teach women to code, but that just creates another problem, The Guardian, 14 March 2017.
- Soontiens, N., Musalem, K.R., Timbers, T., and Huang, D. (2015) Reflections following a women in science workshop, Software Carpentry
- Terrell, J., Kofink, A., Middleton, J., Rainear, C., Murphy-Hill, E., Parnin, C., and Stallings, J. (2017) Gender differences and bias in open source: pull request acceptance ofwomen versus men. PeerJ Computer Science3:e111, https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj-cs.111
- The Code to Change
- Verspoor, K. (2016) The real reason more women don’t code, The Conversation.