'Girls can code' will be the message

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Encouraging more parents to let their daughters try after-school activities such as computer coding could be one of the ways to fix the gender imbalance in the tech industry, Dunedin professionals say.

Itgemi managing director Kylie Robinson is speaking at a Women in Tech panel event as part of the New Zealand International Science Festival next week.

Ms Robinson said many women grew up believing they did not have an aptitude in tech-related fields because they had not been exposed to them.

Stats NZ data from 2017 showed 100,000 people were employed in information and communication technology-related roles in New Zealand, but only one-fifth were women.

"I'm surprised at how it hasn't become more equal," Ms Robinson said.

It was a question of building confidence, and it started at primary school.

Former chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology Dr Helen Anderson, the current chairwoman of Branz building research institute, and Ally Watson, founder of Australian company Code Like A Girl, will also be speaking at the Women in Tech event.

Ms Watson will also be running a basic coding workshop next Tuesday for girls aged between 8 and 16, which has already sold out.

There were some after-school computer science classes in Dunedin, such as Hive Dunedin and the city's Code Club, and Hatch Innovations Lab at the Otago Polytechnic.

However Ms Robinson said many parents still considered coding classes to be an option for their sons, rather than their daughters.

Hatch founder Phillipa Dick agreed, saying she taught about 40 pupils after school every week and about 80% of them were boys.

She also went into schools to help teachers incorporate tech-based tasks into their classes.

"I think what I noticed going into schools and talking to parents is that there's kind of an assumption that IT and specialised skills are something only boys are interested in," she said.

"I think it's more about that exposure."

There was a perception that tech was "this geeky, narrow world", but it gave children the ability to be content creators rather than consumers.

The skill made people valuable in every industry, not just technology.

Coding was "not for everyone" and she tried to use tools that made it creative, including incorporating animation into classes.

Women in Tech will be held at 123 Vogel St on Tuesday at 6pm.

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