Sexism in The IT Crowd and other TV shows that chronicle of life in the tech industry is preventing women from considering a career in IT, said Sarah Lamb of women-in-tech-group Girl Geek Dinners.
The IT Crowd's Jen: Not an
inspirational role model
The portrayal of IT workers as sexist and women as technically inept and foolish in the programme was unhelpful, she said, speaking at the Westminster Education Forum yesterday.
The girls in those programmes are always being teased and always being picked on, it doesn't help. It happens in the press, it happens even in schools, and it happens on the net – you see flame wars against girls that are putting across sensible comments. That culture is prevalent worldwide.
The low number of young women selecting Computer Science at school was one of the top issues on the Forum's agenda yesterday in a session dedicated to ICT education.
Lamb said that girls' lack of interest in IT was not just a UK problem, it was a trend globally, mentioning a recent UN initiative on getting more females into ICT and entrepreneurship.
But while stereotypes have a big impact on children's decisions, teen attitudes didn't help either, Lamb said. She said a culture of not wanting to appear to be clever among teenage girls combined with a desire not to stand out from the crowd stopped them from going into subjects where they felt they don't "belong".
The headmaster of a girls grammar school in outer London said that schools had a lot of work to do too. Desmond Deehan explained how he turned the situation around for the 1,500 girls from diverse backgrounds at Townley Grammar School For Girls:
When I took over as headmaster in April 2010, ICT wasn't offered, Wikipedia and YouTube were banned. Students weren't allowed to bring in any personal phones or computers. Now we have 80 students doing computer science and the first cohort is going through to A-level.
In February we took 40 of those GCSE students to Silicon Valley. We saw Google, Stanford, Intel. And seeing so many women working there was important, especially at Google, [where] 50 per cent [of the staff are] women. There were role models - and for girls, role models are a big deal - what they saw in Silicon valley is not what they see here.
He added that his school used to teach scratch programming until specialist school funding was scrapped and it was no longer able to do so.
As a final point, Deehan mentioned that a move to making the ICT curriculum more creative would make it more attractive to girls. He pressed for the government's focus on STEM subjects - Science Technology Engineering and Maths – to include the Arts.
Arts and creativity should be as a part of the STEM focus. That's why we suggest STEAM - otherwise we still see them as consumers, not creatives.