Women in the technology sector are encouraging the next generation to rethink what’s possible in tech.
A 2019 SAP Canada study found that women in tech felt the industry’s negative reputation was “still a reality.” Forty-three per cent of respondents reported they “don’t believe tech companies want to hire women.”
The study also found 48 per cent of women don’t know how to develop the required skills for a tech career.
To address these gaps and more, women-tech organizations are providing youth with the necessary skills to thrive in tech careers.
Janelle Hinds created Helping Hands because she said she saw a need that wasn’t being met.
Helping Hands is a platform that helps connect youth with volunteer and leadership opportunities. The organization also hosts workshops and entrepreneurship and career exploration events.
Hinds said Helping Hands emphasizes a youth-led approach where they are able to share suggestions and feedback.
When Hinds was in high school, she said she noticed students in other schools struggling to find volunteer opportunities. At the time, she thought somebody would fix the problem, but no one did.
Motivated to change this, Hinds developed Helping Hands in 2015.
“Tech is amazing, but it definitely has its barriers,” she said.
“At that time, there weren’t as many resources on how to [create] a smartphone app,” she added.
Hinds said she had to teach herself how to code. She also said affordability is a significant barrier to getting into tech development.
Existing attitudes in the tech sector are another barrier. Hinds has a degree in electrical and biomedical engineering. She said men still underestimated her skills when she started her company.
“They didn’t notice my engineering range,” she said. “They assumed [I was] a secretary or something.”
Hinds also said she dislikes some of the language used to discuss the lack of women in tech.
“People will [say] women aren’t interested in [tech]. That’s not true,” said Hinds. “It’s that women are underestimated. People assume women aren’t good enough for this field.”
Hinds said she’s noticed both women and young people are “underestimated and underrepresented” in tech.
She added that she worked hard to overcome those biases. She now wants to “keep the door open for someone behind her.”
Go CODE Girl is a program that teaches young girls in Grade 7 to 10 how to code. The program helps girls to realize “career possibilities available in technology, computing and software engineering fields,” according to their website.
The program is supported by the Ontario Network of Women in Engineering, according to Samantha Munro. Munro is the communications coordinator in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science department at Ontario Tech University.
Ontario Tech University is one of many universities hosting the Go CODE Girl program, according to their website.
“We run Go CODE Girl every year in the winter semester,” said Munro. “We have seen that there is a desperate need for these types of girl-specific STEM programs.”
Munro said the program tries to inspire girls to pursue coding by exposing them to careers that require coding skills.
Go CODE Girl also invites women in the industry to speak to the program participants.
The program also hosts an information session for parents. Munro said it gives parents an opportunity to ask questions about the gender gap in STEM education. The session also provides insight into how parents can support their daughters’ educational journey.
Ontario Tech University also runs a Girls Coding Club to help address the lack of programming targeted towards girls.
Due to COVID-19, the clubs take place virtually.
Tech Spark is a tech and design school that addresses the needs of children of colour, women and students through education.
The organization offers a K-12 curriculum “through the lens of tech, entrepreneurship, and equity,” according to their website.
The types of programming include robotics, coding, UX, gaming and virtual reality.
Alysha Campbell is the director of operations at Tech Spark. She said the program
has reached more than 15,000 students to date.
“Black children have begun associating certain careers with people who look like them,” said Campbell. “[It] helps them feel like they belong there.”
She added that program graduates have entered advanced college programs. Other graduates are working in media and IT.
Tamar Huggins Grant is Tech Spark’s founder. She noticed young people of colour needed to see positive representations of themselves within tech.
When trying to create this program, Huggins Grant received resistance from investors and educators.
“New methods are always disruptive to the existing system,” Campbell said. “A program that prioritizes race is always a hot button.”
Tech Spark plans to be in 15 schools across the Greater Toronto Area in the 2021-2022 school year, Campbell said.
Tech Spark also has a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of Canada, she added. This partnership will allow the program to reach thousands more students.