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Creating Barrier Free Opportunities for All

April 15, 2021 By Canada Learning Code

The computer science field is growing rapidly, and that’s good news! But even as it expands, the gender gap stubbornly remains. According to Statistics Canada, a mere 23% of workers in the field identify as female 1. Clearly, there is still much work that needs to be done.

The Barriers Start Early

We’ve all seen the studies and we’ve read the reports. Some of us have even experienced it first-hand. Boys often take centre stage in the classroom. And teachers often unwittingly perpetuate this by calling on or valuing boys’ input more. Studies have shown that “teachers spend up to two-thirds of their time talking to male students; they also are more likely to interrupt girls but allow boys to talk over them… Boys are also more frequently called to the front of the class for demonstrations. When teachers ask questions, they direct their gaze towards boys more often, especially when the questions are open-ended.” 2

As time goes on, the confidence of girls and those who identify as female declines and they are less likely to raise their hands or ask questions, while boys continue to be more inclined to speak up. This is especially evident in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), where as girls progress through school, they become less and less engaged. The result? As recently as  2016, only 34% of those with STEM bachelor degrees in Canada identified as female. 3

Why so little progress? Stereotypes persist that girls aren’t good at STEM. And these stereotypes are perpetuated by the lack of female-identified role models in textbooks, in classrooms, and in the fields themselves. Girls become conditioned to think that boys are better at STEM, so they withdraw even more — no matter how much it might interest them. And the more they don’t see women STEM, the more they don’t feel like they fit the mould. 

A woman and a girls in front od the laptop

Changing the Story 

To shift the balance, we need to start young. We need to encourage girls to pursue STEM at an early age and support them in continuing that exploration throughout their school years. By piquing their curiosity early and giving them supportive spaces to build their skills, we can shift that balance. 

That’s why creating girl-supportive spaces for learning and exploration is vital. 

Girl-supportive spaces create opportunities for girls to learn about STEM in barrier-free settings, guided by allies who are there to engage them. These spaces allow girls to pursue their curiosity and show them opportunities they may not have realized were possible. How do they do that? Well, by:

  • allowing girls to support one another: girls get to share their experiences with other girls, as equals, learning to encourage each other and to lift each other up.
  • creating safety and building resiliency: girl-supportive spaces allow girls to explore, experiment, and test out new ideas without the fear of competing against boys or comparing themselves to them. And more than that, girl-supportive spaces are judgment-free zones, where girls can take risks, embrace failure, and try again!
  • building skills: in girl-supportive spaces, there is room for everyone’s voice. No matter who you are, you can speak up, ask questions, and tackle challenges. This kind of equitable engagement helps everyone build the problem-solving and creative-thinking skills fundamental in STEM learning. 
  • showcasing positive role models: with positive, supportive leaders guiding them, girls not only start to see their own potential, they also see positive role models and begin to understand what success in the field can look like.

Claiming Their Space

Two girls in front of their tablet

Given the right opportunities and supportive role models, girls become empowered to pursue their interests in STEM. Their mindset shifts from “I could never do that!” to “I CAN and WANT to do that!” With that attitude, nothing will stop them from claiming their space in the tech field. And when they do, they will become the new mentors and role models for those following behind them!

We are grateful to our partners who share our belief that creating girl-supportive spaces for learning and exploration is vital. Their support allows us to create opportunities for girls to learn about STEM is barrier-free settings, to pursue their curiosity and show them new opportunities. Thank you! For a full listing of our amazing funding partners or to learn more about how to get involved click here.

  1. Katherine Wall. (2019). Persistence and representation of women in STEM. Ottawa: Statistics Canada. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75-006-x/2019001/article/00006-eng.htm
  2. Chemaly, Soraya. All Teachers Should be Trained to Overcome Their Hidden Biases. Time Magazine, Feb 12, 2015. https://time.com/3705454/teachers-biases-girls-education/
  3.  Katherine Wall. (2019). Persistence and representation of women in STEM. Ottawa: Statistics Canada. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75-006-x/2019001/article/00006-eng.htm

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