Data industry pioneer Edwina Dunn is stepping up her crusade to get more girls to consider a career in data science and engineering by urging them to switch away from celebrity culture to learn from inspirational women.
The move follows research conducted by The Female Lead, the not for profit organisation set up by Dunn, which analysed social media activity of schoolgirls.
“There is a big difference in the language of the girls who have female role models,” Dunn told The Times. “They are much more likely to use words such as ‘inspiration’ and to talk about the big dreams that they have.”
However, girls who only follow boys tend to be less confident about expressing their own opinions, Dunn explained: “It’s just more about them repeating what the boys say.
“Role models are really important. It’s very hard for girls to visualise what success looks like – and you can’t think what you can’t see.”
While conceding that “things are improving”, Dunn added: “Girls are still being steered into jobs, such as caring, that tend to be lower paid. There is nothing wrong with that but there are other options. The number we are producing in the sciences are pitifully small, especially compared with India and China.”
And in a shout-out to last week’s “Equal Pay Day” – the day in the year when women start to work for free because of the difference in the pay of men and women – Dunn wants to make it easier for women to compete on a level-playing field.
She said: “I once found out that a male colleague was earning £10,000 more than me for doing the same job. I hadn’t asked. Girls are taught to be nice and kind so it can be tough for them to say ‘I’m great at my job, how dare you not be paying me what I am worth?”
As part of her ongoing campaign, Dunn has also joined forces with Women in Data UK to launch the “20 in Data” project, designed to shine a light on 20 exceptional stories of female achievement and inspire data practitioners across the UK.
Her comments follow calls by The Royal Society, the UK’s independent scientific academy, for the Government to increase its investment in computer education tenfold to £60m over the next five years and train up to 8,000 secondary school computing teachers.
According to official figures released in the summer, 66,751 students took the computing GCSE in 2017, just 4,297 more than in the previous year. The number of male students rose from 49,926 in 2016 to 53,519 this year, while the number of females taking the subject rose from 12,528 last year to 13,232 in 2017.
This had led to claims that the Government’s drive is only scratching the surface.
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