StartupAUS and the Australian Computer Society are among the organisations who have welcomed Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s announcement yesterday of Girls into Code, a $4.5 million funding program to help get girls coding if Labor wins next year’s federal election.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten announced that grants of up to $150,000 will be available to organisations such as Code Club Australia, Code Like a Girl, and Tech Girls Movement to help them scale up their activities and reach more young girls. Grants will also go towards mentoring and networking programs, training for teachers, and school programs.
ACS president Brenda Aynsley praised the initiative, stating that Australia has a “chronic shortage” of women graduating with computer science or coding skills, and that it is critical for the sector to capture the interest of girls as early as possible by teaching them coding and computational thinking in every school.
Since 2001, the number of women enrolling in an IT degree has fallen from around one in four to one in 10, with women making up just 28 percent of the IT workforce.
“All the research suggests that by the time girls reach 15 many of them have either dismissed or not even considered the option of a career in ICT. One of the key reasons is the lack of opportunity to engage in computing science, either through the curriculum or through extra-curricular activities. Feedback from groups such as Code Club and others suggests that once girls are given the opportunity to do coding they generally have a strong aptitude for it and excel,” Aynsley said.
Peter Bradd, CEO of StartupAUS, added that Labor’s policy will spur the development of a more skilled and gender diverse workforce.
“StartupAUS believes improving rates of participation by women in technology jobs starts by capturing girls’ interest from an early age, having great role models and clearly depicting the diverse career paths that provide plentiful opportunities for girls,” he said.
“The focused initiatives by Labor highlight some great policies and programs to help transform Australia into an innovation hub. It is through the creation of a thriving, diverse tech and innovation hub, that we can begin to compete on a global scale and attract and retain innovation talent.”
Of course, getting young girls into coding won’t help increase diversity in tech in the long term unless the existing issues facing women in the ecosystem today aren’t addressed. According to the US-based National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), 56 percent of technical women leave the field within ten years, more than double the dropout rate for men, citing issues such as isolation and “hostile” cultures.
The Girls into Code announcement comes just a week after Shorten announced Labor’s National Sharing Economy Principles, a set of guidelines for the sharing economy it will work on with state and territory governments to turn into regulations if elected next year.