Research1 shows that middle school (ages 11 to 13) is pivotal for shaping girls' perceptions that coding jobs are "for them". I was part of a panel where the questions came from girls in that age range and I was excited to share some advice to help them get interested in a future in STEM.
One of the questions was how we got into our tech careers. Some responses were along the lines of "falling into it." Even if it were true, there are more helpful answers to give.
Young women need to see that if they make actionable choices today, they will set themselves up for an exciting career in technology.
When you tell stories about "falling into it", like it just "happened to you", young women could make the connection that they don't need to do anything specific to reach that end goal.
When sharing your STEM story to young girls, you need to demystify the steps you took. You need to reflect on your past and recall the steps that led you to where you are, however small they were.
Here's a story I tell young girls to help them see where they are, and where they could go:
When I was 10 years old, there were few English books or resources on Hello Kitty, so I wanted to build a website that shared information on its creator's history and company.
With the help of my older brother and Lissa Explains (a kid-friendly resource on how to build a website), I launched and managed the website until I lost interest in Hello Kitty.
Although I lost interest in Hello Kitty, I still enjoyed building websites because it helped me share information, gain skills that were in demand, and be part of a community.
When I got to high school, I was into photography and needed a quick way to share my photos professionally and catch the eye of potential employers. I used my website development skills to create a portfolio.
Each time I made a website, I was solving a challenge. I tracked where visitors clicked on my website and how long they stayed, something we refer to as "analytics". This information helped me understand what I could do to help visitors find the information they needed.
Along the way, I had friends and classmates ask me to build or improve their websites. Schools began to specialize in skill-building for careers in technology. When I had to select courses in high school, I chose courses in computers and business.
You don't need to be good at math or technology, you just need to have an interest in it and make time to practice every day to get better at it.
No one wants to hear that you "fell into" your career. That suggests you left it to chance to have a great career, when in reality, you had a lot to do with your successes.
Young girls need to hear that you solved problems.
That you don't need to be “good at math.”
That you just need to be interested, and put in the time to do great things.
Reflection is so important, even the most mundane experiences. Take time and care to think about your story. And share it with gusto, so girls can take charge of their future.
1. ^ Choney, Suzanne (2018). Why do girls lose interest in STEM? New research has some answers — and what we can do about it. Microsoft Stories. Retrieved 14 June 2020.