This post is part of Mashable’s ongoing series The Women Fixing STEM, which highlights trailblazing women in science, tech, engineering, and math, as well as initiatives and organizations working to close the industries’ gender gaps.
Diversifying the white male dominated tech industry is quite the task, especially outside major cities. But there are two kickass Australian women who’ve found neon-lit ways to start working on this, especially in regional areas.
Melbourne-based tech education startup Code Like a Girl has launched a mobile, pop-up classroom with the aim to provide coding workshops to young women, and diversify the tech industry in the long run.
Called the Roaming Classroom for Rebel Girls, the pop-up is the brainchild of Code Like a Girl founders Ally Watson and Vanessa Doake.
Niftily packing up into a bespoke pink truck, the classroom was designed by installation designer Will O’Rourke in collaboration with Glue Society and Y-M-D agency. It takes 2 to 3 hours to assemble, and will travel to a variety of youth centres, libraries, and community halls in suburban and regional areas around the state of Victoria, Australia.
But instead of your old drab community hall, girls will find a coding oasis just for them, with colourful lockers to throw their bags into, desks, neon signs, programmable lamps, and a whole heap of girl power motivational posters.
“Our mission is not just about getting more women in tech, it’s about getting more women building tech.”
How will a few neon lights and posters work to change up the tech industry? While there can be many bright, fun Googlified venues available for training in major cities, girls living in regional towns often miss out on sparkly spaces in which to learn HTML/CSS coding, or game development using block coding.
“We believe tech is for everyone — we’re not just about equipping the top 10 percent of female coders,” Doake said. “But when you run workshops exclusively in the CBD you do have a limited pool of girls who can attend.”
“When girls come into tech companies in the city there’s a real ‘wow factor’ but anytime anything happens in the outer suburbs or regional towns, they’re stuck with a community hall or library — nothing particularly inspiring. Ally and I have worked really hard to create a space we would have loved ourselves as young girls.”
But it’s not about just getting young women into coding outside cities, geographically. With this pop-up classroom, Code Like a Girl is putting a particular focus on providing opportunities for girls from all socioeconomic backgrounds.
“We’re very aware that gender is only one form of diversity,” Doake told Mashable. “Our desire is to provide opportunities for all girls, from all backgrounds to learn about technology — in particular, those that face intersectional disadvantage.”
“While the roaming classroom is specifically focussing on addressing the lack of female representation in tech broadly, we hope going into more suburban and remote areas will provide opportunities for girls from diverse backgrounds (cultural and economic) to also be involved that may not necessarily have the ability or resources to participate in CBD-based opportunities,” Doake told Mashable.
“We’re very aware that gender is only one form of diversity.”
Diversifying STEM with women from all socioeconomic backgrounds is one challenge, and offering up opportunities to women of colour, for example, is another, one Code Like a Girl is well aware of.
“We’ve used posters which include women of colour role models to ensure girls from all backgrounds will be inspired by someone they can relate to,” said Doake. “During this pilot we haven’t set specific targets or quotas to reach a certain number of women of colour, but it is critically important.
“While we’re confident this will be achieved organically due to the areas we’re running this pilot, if we find we don’t have diverse representation it is something we’ll establish for future uses of the Roaming Classroom.”
Doake and Watson don’t just want to shake up male-dominated tech as a workforce, observing that with a diversified industry, the actual tech products will become more relevant for women.
“Our mission is not just about getting more women in tech, it’s about getting more women building tech. Because unless we start really diversifying the tech industry – not just to include females but people from all walks of life – technology is never going to reach its full potential,” said Watson.
“You only have to take a quick glance at the apps being released to understand that modern day technology is being created by privileged people to help privilege; food delivery, cleaning services, etc.” said Watson.
Code Like a Girl’s Roaming Classroom for Rebel Girls will travel to six locations within the state for two days each month. First stop will be October 20-21 in Brimbank, then Hobsons Bay, Maribyrnong, Melton, Moonee Valley and finishing up in Wyndham in March 2019.
Tickets will be offered from A$5, and there’ll just be 20 students per class to encourage collaboration and enable one-on-one training.
“This roadshow is just one of many things we can do to expose girls of all socio-economic backgrounds to the incredible world of coding,” said Watson. “And hopefully one day they’ll help to make Australia’s tech industry richly diverse; because only then can we start building tech that truly serves everyone.”