Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

No need to pinkify

No Need to Pinkify

Girls don’t get interested in tech because it is pink. They get interested in it because it is INTERESTING.

There are so many other wonderful colours to choose from! Photo by Senjuti Kundu on Unsplash

The recent drive towards increasing the provision of Computer Science in UK schools has generated many debates. Looming large in the discussion is how many girls pursue STEM subjects as they progress through school. For example, in August 2017, only 9.8% of students completing a Computing A-level course were girls.

At GCSE the picture is grimmer yet — Computing and ICT-related GCSEs accounted for only 1.5% of the total number of exams taken by female students, against 3.7% for males. This is despite the fact that girls, when they actually pursue technology subjects, consistently outperform the boys.

Partly in response to this, there has been a debate about whether or not we should try to ‘pinkify’ concepts like coding in order to make STEM subjects more attractive to girls. In a nutshell, this means creating fonts that are more, you know, pink. Flowery. Girly. Make websites pink or purple. Print documents on pink and purple polka-dot paper.

As somebody who has taught in all-boys schools, co-ed schools, and an all-girls school, it genuinely did not occur to me that this was an essential element in recruiting more girls into computing. It is true that boys tend to pick such subjects more than girls. There are a whole host of reasons why this might be, including gender stereotypes from society at large.

However to combat the stereotype that boys like tech, with the stereotype that girls just want flowery pink items, is to completely miss the point.

Girls respond to positive role models, to challenging concepts, to having their eyes opened to the wider spread of what STEM and computing subjects can do in fields such as quantum computing, Artificial Intelligence, and cybersecurity. Funnily enough, so do boys.

Hop onto Hour of Code activities during Computer Science week, and if you are in my classes you will see girls coding the movements of BB8 and R2D2, or moving Steve from Minecraft, using javascript concepts. You will see girls utilising the principles of BIDMAS in Python programming. You will see girls discussing the ethics of self-driving AI entities in a military combat situation. It did not occur to me or to them that I would point the boys towards Star Wars or Call of Duty related concepts, and the girls towards My Little Pony or Labrador Families.

As the teacher and father of three children, two of whom are Primary aged girls, I have the pleasure of teaching my daughters to code using tools such as Espresso, Scratch and CAS resources.

My aim is to guide the children I teach, and the children I father, towards a world that is free from gender stereotypes — because they are the ones that will have the power to change these outmoded concepts.

Editors Note from Dinah Davis

The Original Title of this article was “No Need to Pinkify.” I changed it to “Stop Pinkifying” because I felt it was a stronger title. However, I see that it set the wrong tone for the article and have reverted it. Thanks to Catherine Holloway for helping me see this connection.

That said the main goal of this article is to say that we don’t need to pinkify in order to get girls interested in technology. This does not in anyway mean we need to exclude feminine or girly options for people who wish to do them. It means we don’t want it to be the only option for girls when they are learning to code.

Thanks to everyone who has responded so far and joined this conversation.