Educators and Parents
Share |

Are WE Part of the Problem?

What image do we convey of computing? Do we present the field in terms that are important to girls, or do we unconsciously reinforce the negative image of computing that's driving them away?

Bored girl sitting in class, face resting in hand.

Nerdy man gesturing grimly with a computer keyboard in his hand.

A Quick Quiz

Describing a job differently can make all the difference in sparking a girl's interest in the field. Which version do you think would appeal to a girl?

  1. "Develop software for a cochlear implant that helps people who are deaf to hear."
  2. "Develop algorithms to simulate excitation on electrode arrays using a microcontroller for a cochlear implant."

Version A is clear and direct. It describes a job that makes a difference in people’s lives.

Version B perpetuates the image of computing as remote, impenetrable, and removed from the real world.

What’s Wrong with This Image?

Version B is an actual example of how a computer scientist introduced a job to girls. Her goal, she explained, was to give an accurate, thorough description and avoid "dumbing down" the job. She confessed her distaste at the idea of "marketing" computing, and a surprising number of educators and computer scientists who care deeply about recruiting girls feel the same way.

However sincere and well-meaning, Version B is what gives computing a bad name. Here’s why:

  • It loses sight of the audience. The heavily technical language is geared toward other computing professionals, not teen girls. Is our purpose to interest and inspire girls, or to deliver a spec sheet?
  • It misses the forest for the trees. How helpful is it to mention algorithms, electrode arrays, and microcontrollers in a single sentence? Are we bent on explaining the process of doing a job instead of emphasizing its rewards, goals, and relevance?
  • It ignores the big picture. No reason is given about why someone would want to do this job in the first place. Yet this job has such a compelling purpose. Wouldn’t it be better to state outright that cochlear implants change the lives of people who are deaf?
  • It lacks human interest. This job makes a profound difference in the lives of people—yet people aren’t even mentioned. Why describe a job that’s so emotionally rewarding in such a dry and impersonal way?

Becoming Part of the Solution

Can we learn to talk to girls in language that inspires them, that speaks to their aspirations and values? Can we focus on the why of computing rather than getting caught up in the how? In the next section, you’ll learn more about talking to girls in ways that will make them want to listen.