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Founded in Australia in 2008, Robogals started out as an idea to get young girls more interested in STEM subjects (science, tech, engineering and maths). Co-founders Marita Cheng and Mark Parncutt felt that women were under-represented in the industry, and wanted to show girls just how fun and fulfilling a career in engineering can be.

Since then, Robogals has gone global – spreading to Europe, North America, Indonesia, South Africa and Saudi Arabia. There are now 30 chapters worldwide.

I first got involved when I was at university, about three years ago. 

One of my lecturers was really interested in tech-enhanced learning (using technology to aid education – children are naturally engaged with things like robots, so they pick up skills easily). She set up a Robogals chapter at university and was looking for volunteers to go into schools. I thought it sounded interesting, so I decided to sign up.

I became a training manager in my first year and ended up running the whole chapter in my final year.

Coding is now on the national curriculum, so do we really need volunteers in schools?

It’s great that code is taught in schools now, but I feel that there’s still a lot to do in helping to engage children at an early age. That’s why volunteer organisations like Robogals and Code Club are so vital.

We reached a thousand students in just two years. Boys and girls aged between five and 15 – who otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn about code – were able to build simple programs and take part in fun activities to show that coding isn’t just about black screens and basement dwelling. It’s actually really rewarding!

And who knows, maybe some of them will be tomorrow’s tech leaders. I’d like to think so.

While the kids are busy working on a task, we can explain to the teacher how they can create similar activities themselves.

What I’ve noticed is that when we go into schools, a lot of the teachers don’t have any experience in teaching coding. This means we’re able to guide them as much as the kids. It’s important to get them on board and help break down the barriers associated with tech.

Sometimes we’ll be running a workshop using equipment that the school doesn’t usually have access to. Then, while the kids are busy working on a task, we can explain to the teacher how they can create similar activities and evaluate the work themselves after we’ve gone.

A lot of academy schools don’t have coding on their curriculums, because they don’t have to. That feels really weird to me. Some of them run an after-school club every couple of weeks, but the majority of students aren’t touching code at all.

Image kindly borrowed from www.robogals.org

So I think it’s important to try and reach the kids in these schools as much as possible – if they don’t have an opportunity to even find out about coding, how will they know if it’s for them?

A lot has been said about women in tech: why it’s a male-dominated industry and what can be done about it. From my experience, the young girls I’ve taught tend to hold back in mixed groups and let the boys take over. It’s a natural reluctance to get involved.

That is, until they’ve found their confidence.

We started to separate girls and boys into different groups to go through the basics, before blending them back together for group activities. Once they realise they can do it, we notice girls speaking up a lot more.

I guess they just don’t think that coding is for them, or that they can do it, so they aren’t engaging with it properly.

If you want more girls in tech, start them early

If we’re going to encourage young girls to consider a career in a technological environment, it’s really important to get them to realise that they can actually do it. It’s been amazing to watch some them change from being shy, to putting their hands up and saying ‘I can do this!’ They love it.

In terms of female representation in the tech industry, I do still feel that we have a lot further to go. The guys I know in tech are lovely, so there’s no issue there, it’s just that women don’t seem to want to get involved.

The guys I know in tech are lovely, so there’s no issue there, it’s just that women don’t seem to want to get involved.

People tell you it’s male-dominated so you end up thinking ‘do I really want to get involved?’ At university I was surrounded by guys, so it sometimes felt as though I had nobody I could relate to. But there were a few female lecturers who became my role models. I thought that if they could do it, then so could I.

Now I’m at DLG Digital, I feel that there’s a pretty level playing field. There are a lot of female managers and product owners, so I don’t really notice any disparity.

I believe that it all starts at school. You get channelled into certain subject areas; partly because of teachers and partly because your peers have a lot of influence over which subjects you take. They might say “why are you doing engineering, it’s just full of boys?”

Follow your heart

My older brother introduced me to code, and I think that if it wasn’t for him I’d never have looked at it. If more girls can be shown coding as a viable option, they might feel more encouraged to take it up.

If you’re considering a career in tech, my advice would be not to be intimidated. The guys in tech are generally lovely people who are more than happy to welcome you into the team.

Even if your friends at school look at you with disbelief and say ‘why are you doing that?’ it’s still worth pursuing. Because it’s an amazing career: there are so many opportunities and you get the chance to actually build things. People don’t realise how creative it is – it’s not just about logic and plugging stuff in, you’re making something, every day. It’s very rewarding.

Get involved

Volunteering is a great way to share knowledge and inspire young kids. Go to the Robogals website or check out their Facebook page if you want to find out more. There are chapters all over the country, so there’s probably one near you. And if there isn’t, why not set up your own chapter? They will fund some of your work, and you can raise sponsorship too.

Schools are so willing to welcome you in, as they tend to have such little resource when it comes to coding. They are more than happy for volunteers to come in and give their students expert tuition in a subject that is still largely new to them.

What can be better than talking about something you love and inspiring young kids at the same time?