We had the pleasure to sit down with Paul Fowler from the Spiced Academy to discuss the gender gap in STEM.
Excerpt from the interview:
"In the 2nd of our Women In Tech series we speak with Adriana Moscatelli, the founder of Play Works Studio. Play Works Studio develops science education games for boys and girls, with a strong focus on getting girls to develop a passion for science and technology. Speaking with Adriana, it becomes clear just how strong this focus is, and how passionate she is about developing the conversation around women in tech.
With over 15 years experience in software development, she’s worked with companies such as Microsoft, Nokia, The Pokémon Company International, Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast and Whirlpool. This gives her a wealth of experience to draw upon, and we were fortunate to be able to pick her brains about her own experiences as a woman in tech, and some of her ideas around how to address the gender imbalance in technology and startup industries.
4 years ago you started Play Works Studio. Can you tell us a little about the company and what you do?
At Play Works Studio we believe in equal play and equal fun! We develop science games for girls and boys and our mission is to encourage children, especially girls, to discover a passion for science and technology while having fun. I wholeheartedly believe that play should be equal and that girls and boys should be encouraged to play and learn together.
It is only when we teach kids that we all have the freedom to explore our own interests and to choose our own paths that we will begin to shape a more equal world.
Why do you think it’s so important that kids learn code from a young age?
The idea that children should learn to code is not new. Back in 1987, Seymour Papert invented what later became the theory of constructionism in a grant proposal to the National Science Foundation. We all think of Papert as the father of the Logo Turtle programming language, which was conceived in the 60s to teach programming concepts to children. Seymour Papert makes the point that if technology is ubiquitous in classrooms there is actually more socialization and that the technology often contributes to greater interaction among students and among students and instructors.
“Learning to code is as useful and fundamental as learning math and reading.”
I believe that this is even more true today because the “internet of things” and mobile devices are available in classrooms equipped with high-bandwidth wireless connectivity. Papert’s dream, you might say, is now a reality.
I fully support the idea that children must learn how to create technology instead of just consume it. Learning to code is the first step. It is as useful and fundamental as learning math and reading.
When speaking about Play Works Studio, you mention that you want to encourage boys and girls – especially girls – to learn to code. Why the emphasis on girls (which we wholeheartedly agree with, just to be clear!)?
Research shows that in the United States children associate boys with math and science as early as first grade. The research also shows that positive early experiences with computer programming lead to equal success among girls and boys. Our own research with Robiis showed that 6-year-old children held stereotypes associating robots and programming with boys. But a 20 minute lab intervention with Robiis, and a 3 week program at school with Robiis, can change girl’s motivation and efficacy with robots and programming.
When girls have positive experiences that involve programming they are more likely to express an interest and perhaps pursue a career in science and technology. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that in the United States, women with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) degrees earn on average 33% more that women with non-STEM degrees. Furthermore, the gender-pay gap is narrower for women with STEM degrees than for women with non-STEM degrees. If we want to start narrowing the gender-pay gap we should start by encouraging more women to pursue careers in jobs with higher salaries, like engineering and computer programming.
There’s no doubt women in tech are the minority – in your experience, what reasons can you see for this imbalance?
The research is clear: girls lose interest in STEM at a early age because societal pressures tell them that science and technology are not for them. Once they lose interest, they avoid activities and experiences that help them develop skills which may lead them into a career in science and technology.
We know, for example, that spatial reasoning is an important skill in the development of math skills. Unfortunately, girls are less likely to play with building toys and vehicles, which are a great way to develop spatial reasoning skills.
For the few women who pursued careers in STEM despite the societal pressures, there is an additional challenge when entering the workforce. Research shows that in order for a group to feel that they are equally represented they need at least 40% participation. Very few CS schools and certainly very few tech companies have that kind of participation. When you are a minority, it is natural that your opinion is less likely to count, not because people are mean but because it is more likely that the majority will end up casually discussing things that are of interest to them and not you. Once you feel that you are not important, you are more likely to disengage and drop out.
But, examples like Harvey Mudd College have set a standard. It is possible to engage more women in Computer Science through mentorship and a willingness to take action to increase participation, like separating the intro to computer science class into two groups: the people with programming experience, and the people without programming experience. In this scenario, students end up interacting with classmates who have the same level of (or at least more similar) prior knowledge about programming. Guess which class would most of the women attend? Today Harvey Mudd graduates 50% women in computer science at the undergraduate level.
It is possible to change.
And when did you first (if ever) feel as though there was resistance to you progressing in your career based on being a woman?
When I worked in tech and gaming I didn’t..."
Read the full interview here:
SPICED Academy is an education startup on a mission to build a global community of well-rounded, creative software engineers. We give students a deep knowledge of coding and all the skills they need to build a lasting, prosperous career. Our goal is to make coding approachable for those who previously felt daunted. Our rigorous courses are project-based and team-oriented to accelerate learning and help our students be ready to excel – confident, prepared, and empowered.
For more information visit: http://spiced-academy.com/