GIRLsmarts Program is Fostering the Girl Geeks

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There’s a huge disconnect. According Statscan, women represented the majority of university graduates in 2011, yet for only accounted for 39% percent of all STEM university graduates aged 25 to 34.

This begs the big question: why aren’t more women choosing IT? Technology offers so much opportunity for both men and women to become business leaders and develop a successful career. Right now demand is clearly outstripping our supply of talent.

This is a significant issue, as a recent Harvard University conference focusing on closing the gender gap in computer science highlighted. Finding these bright young girls early in the challenge for both business and academia. It’s about educating them and empowering them to do great things by pushing them into big challenges early on.

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In Vancouver two big names are teaming up and do exactly this. SAP and UBC held the first GIRLsmarts workshop, a one-day computer science workshop for Grade 7 girls. On a Saturday this workshop attracted 65 girls. The GIRLsmarts program, organized by UBC’s Computer Science department, has been active for a decade. This is the first year involving a partnership with industry that’s holding workshops outside of UBC’s Vancouver campus. It’s also the first time it held a Grade 7 workshop, as previously only Grade 6 workshops have been offered.

Kirsten Sutton, managing director of SAP Canada Labs shared that, “over the last 10 years the number of IT professionals in Canada grew from 650,000 to 800,000. During that same period, the number of women in IT has hovered at around 25 percent with little or no change. Research has shown that companies with more women in senior positions achieve greater business success, especially when they focus on innovation.  At SAP, we’re committed to increasing the number of women in management positions from 18 percent to 25 percent by 2017.”

UBC’s  Michele Ng who oversees GIRLsmarts said they started the program in 2004, “because we feel it’s really important that girls get exposed to the power of technology, and the power to drive technology at a very young age. They need to be more than just passive users.The younger we start the better”

A lot of coordination and organization is done by UBC Computer Science students who also work as coordinators. About 130 more SAP volunteers helped with making the day happen. It was more than just generously open their doors.

The program has the girls moving through four different labs. This is a hands on learning opportunity. It introduces them to programming where they learn what a ‘programming language’ is, and how to create your own computer program. The music and technology lab is fun for finding ways to use technologies to make music. Social gaming, uncovers the technology behind creating interactive games. In UX/UI the girls learn how creativity and design influences technology.

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It was a great day that brought proof from the girls. A few priceless comments came my way including, “I was really excited about this, because I might want to be a computer programmer when I grow up. My dad teaches computer science, and started teaching me when I was really, really young… seriously, like when I was 5.”

“I really like learning about the games and music. It seem pretty easy”

“I learned about making your own music, and even remixing it.”

For these digital natives, what appears on their devices until today seemed like looking at the World of Oz. Thanks to this program, they now have a glimpse at the wizard and the magic behind the curtain.

The consensus was unanimous, the SAP and UBC team delivered a fun day of learning about computer programming. It beats just playing on their devices. It also mean there’s 65 more girls who might move beyond today’s gender disconnect in technology.

John Gray

John Gray

John jumped into the start-up world in early 2009. He was co-founder of Mentionmapp, a visual analytics company that was acquired in October 2011. John is Launch Academy's Program Facilitator, and is leading their Lean Entrepreneur Program. He's a freelance writer, focusing on keeping the humanity in our conversations about technology. John has a B.Ap.Sc. in Communications and a B.A. in English, both from Simon Fraser University.

  • myBestHelper

    How did we not hear about this?!? I have wanted to see something like this happen here for years. Thrilled to see (finally!) action on this front… And very interesting to get the background info on the trends.

  • JackieMurchison

    Great article John, and great to see some initiative being taken re: getting more women into tech.

  • Anastasia Hambali

    I know that this type of initiatives was happening in NY but was not aware that we have this in our own backyard as well. Amazing. Looking forward to seeing more.