Between 2012 and 2016 CoderDojo Scotland increased the proportion of girls attending our clubs from 18% to 28%. This toolkit outlines some techniques that Dojo leaders across the country have found helpful in improving gender balance at their clubs. The toolkit talks specifically about CoderDojo clubs but the suggestions will be valid for any similar coding club. We hope that you'll find some or all of the techniques helpful at your own Dojo or coding club.
You may have questions about why it might be better to have an improved gender balance at your Dojo. In this section we’ll discuss why we believe this to be the case and address a few points people have raised.
According to a recent report the digital skills gap is costing the UK economy an estimated £63 billion a year. Having a larger pool of people able to code means more people will be available to fill this gap and take advantage of job opportunities in the area.
Different experiences, styles of thinking, attitudes, and strengths all contribute to the success of a business. Teams with an equal number of men and women have been shown to perform better than teams of only or mainly men.
We’ve found that methods and topics we’ve employed to encourage girls to take part in digital making have also been effective in engaging young people from other under-represented groups. This includes boys who wouldn’t think of themselves as “techy” but are willing to have a go at programming if it intersects with an area they’re already interested in.
Some of the measures suggested in this toolkit may be seen as “positive discrimination” and therefore potentially “unfair” or “artificial”. If you have a set number of places at a Dojo more girls attending will mean fewer boys. It may be possible to mitigate this by running an extra session or a larger session. Of course, this depends on the availability of the venue and the availability of mentors.
The aim is to create an environment with more diversity that makes it easier for young people of all genders, backgrounds and cultures to get involved. This can mean employing strategies that are to some extent "artificial" in the short term.
Getting girls to come to a Dojo in the first place is only half the issue: the other half is getting them to return. Feeling part of a new group is difficult for most people, and if there is no one else in the group like you it’s even more difficult. This is true whether or not you are in a minority of gender, race, background or something else.
A similar scenario is the difficulty boys face getting involved in dance – particularly ballet. Because it’s seen as “not something boys do”, there are very few boys attending classes outside specialist dance schools. This makes it even more challenging for a boy to persevere in the face of being the “odd one out”.
Increasing the number of girls at a Dojo makes it more likely that a new girl attending for the first time will return, as it decreases the likelihood of her feeling that she's the odd one out.
Technically there is “nothing stopping” girls from getting involved – no one is banning them from coding clubs or classes at school. However there are unseen barriers to getting involved in coding that girls may face, such as the feeling of being the "odd one out" discussed above.
This issue of "unseen barriers" is one we have looked at in previous projects that aimed to increase participation with Dojos and digital making of young people from less affluent areas of Glasgow. There is technically “nothing stopping” young people from these areas attending Dojos at Glasgow Science Centre (GSC). However in practice it tends not to happen.
Some possible reasons for this include: difficulties with, or confidence in, using public transport; issues with travelling outside “your own area”, and young people feeling like the Science Centre is “not for them” – an issue that GSC is addressing with an ongoing programme of outreach and community.
To combat these issues we introduced special measures in a previous project (Digital Makers project, funded by Skills Development Scotland) by directly contacting young people through local community groups and schools and by providing transport to and from the Science Centre. In addition, some Dojos in the CoderDojo Scotland network are only available to young people attending schools in specific areas. All of these measures have been effective at getting young people from the areas in question to take part in digital making activities.
Some ways to improve gender balance using email and the bookings system.
One surprisingly obvious but effective method to encourage girls to return to a Dojo is to invite them directly, asking if they would like a ticket for the upcoming event. We would normally send the invitation to the coder and her parent/guardian, as younger girls are less likely to book for themselves.
We found that holding back a percentage of the available tickets and sending an invitation containing a link to book a place was the best way of doing this. After a few days, any tickets not taken up from the invitations are released to the general booking system for anyone to book.
If you'd like to try this approach you can find some example invitation templates to modify here: Invitation Templates. A more "lightweight" alternative would be to identify a number of girls who've attended recently and resend the invitation for the Dojo to their parents/guardians.
If you find that you’re getting bookings overwhelmingly from boys (or overwhelmingly from girls!) it might be worth releasing the tickets at a slightly different time of day in order to give a different group of parents or young people the chance to book.
We’ve found that the way you describe a Dojo can have an impact on the gender balance of the session. This section covers how to use words, pictures, and social media towards an improved gender balance.
By analysing event descriptions for Dojos from 2012 – 2016 we’ve found that descriptions which score highly on the following metrics tend to lead to a better gender balance:
Creativity: Does the described activity involve creating something new and unique to the participant? Examples include: activities incorporating music, art, or literature or activities where participants “remix” an existing piece of code to make something new.
Specificity: Does the activity have a predefined goal, for example “we will make X” or “we will do Y”, as opposed to more general descriptions like “you can explore coding” or “you will be able to work on your own projects”.
Familiarity: Does the description connect the activity to non-computing words and concepts that people are likely to be familiar and comfortable with already? For example “writing stories”, “sharing with friends” or “your favourite band”.
With these results in mind we've included some resources that combine creative topics with coding here: Creative Coding resources.
We also found that descriptions that rated highly on the following characteristics tended to result in a worse gender balance:
Jargon: Does the language in the description include words and phrases that would only be understood by people already familiar with a topic. These might be from computing, such as “CSS”, “HTML”, “scripting”, “prototype”, or another element of the activity, for example “dubstep” (music), “Dutch angle” (film) or “protagonist” (literature).
Competition: Is there an element of competing to be “the best” or “winning”? Does the session involve being compared to others in terms of ranking as opposed to comparing and discussing ideas or approaches to a problem?
Team-working: Does the description state that participants will be working in teams or pairs? For example, “we will be working in teams” or “we’ll be working in pairs”.
This last finding is slightly surprising, but seems likely to relate to descriptions that imply participants won't be able to choose who they work with. In particular, girls may worry about being made to work with people they do not know.
Avoiding any mention of these elements in your descriptions is unrealistic and unnecessary. But it's worth bearing these factors in mind and trying to balance them with elements that encourage a better gender balance.
Focusing on the goal of an activity encourages a wider range of people to engage with it. This is particularly true if the goal involves something familiar and that potential participants are already interested in.
An analogy is the way that adult-education language classes are advertised. The emphasis tends to be on positive outcomes of being able to speak the language, particularly when travelling to a country where it is spoken, rather than on the technical aspects of the language.
So a Russian class might be advertised as: "learn how to order the delicious local food and chat to people you meet when visiting Russia", rather than "learn how to conjugate Russian verbs and identify the case of a noun".
Similarly with coding, people who don't already think of themselves as being interested in the subject are more likely to give it a go if they can see it as another way to do an activity they already enjoy and are confident with.
Below are some example descriptions. The first version of each emphasises elements that we've found can put girls off signing up. The second version has been reworded to emphasise elements that we've found encourage a better gender balance.
The original version of this example contains a lot of jargon and is not clear as to what the "activities" might be. The second version explains words like "micro:bit" and gives some specific examples of the activities available to try.
The original description is very vague and open-ended about what the activities involved might be. It also implies that you should already have a project that you're working on. The reworded version opens the session up to new coders and gives some examples of topics and how coding can be used in areas that participants are likely to be already familiar with.
Similarly, this description removes jargon and frames the activity in terms of a familiar, creative activity. The goal is to make an interactive story that the participant can later share with friends and family.
When advertising a Dojo on social media, by email or on leaflets for schools, it often helps to include a photo of what the event might look like to encourage new attendees to give it a try.
If you don't currently have any photos of your Dojo there are a selection from other Dojos that you can use below. Please note that permission to use these only applies to the purposes of publicising Dojos.
Click here to download a zipped folder containing larger versions of the photos below.
Another feature that we’ve found encourages girls to keep attending Dojos is the presence of both female and male mentors.
We've found that an important factor in improving the gender balance at Dojos is the presence of female mentors. Dojos where all the mentors are male tend to have a worse gender balance than Dojos where the team includes female mentors. This may be due to:
In general, having a diverse team of mentors with different strengths and interests is likely to be beneficial in improving the diversity of the Dojo participants. This gives the young people an increased chance of finding a role model they identify with.
Some places to try if you're trying to recruit mentors include:
Often a completely "open" style of Dojo is less popular with girls than a more structured one. Boys who are new to digital making can appreciate more structure as well.
One solution to this is to include the option of joining small groups at the Dojo dedicated to a specific activity. Each group is led by a mentor, either using materials they've prepared themselves or resources available on the web (see our Resources section for some examples).
This has two main benefits:
It's also possible to have a table with a very short activity that coders can drop into for a short period. This could cover:
Having both female and male mentors leading activities is important. If only male mentors lead activities it gives the impression that female mentors are only there in a subsidiary role and aren't as good at coding.
Mentors (regardless of gender) may not necessarily put themselves forward to lead a table, particularly if they've never done so before. Asking individuals if they would be happy to lead a table on a particular activity and supporting them through it is often a better way to approach this.
Another way to encourage mentors over an initial lack of confidence in leading an activity, is to pair them with another mentor. Once they've gained some experience they should feel more positive about leading a small group themselves.
We’ve found that girls are less likely to enjoy unstructured activities – particularly when they’re new to coding. They’re also less likely to enjoy “messing around” with computers and code for its own sake, preferring there to be a purpose or goal for the activity.
CoderDojo Stirling have two excellent sets of resources on their site that can help with this issue:
This is a specially selected collection of materials from around the web that teach particular languages or skills. It’s really good for new coders as it gives a sense of structure and a feeling of achievement and progression. Click here to access them.
Listed below are some resources that combine coding with creative topics. We've found these are popular with both girls and boys while being particularly effective at getting girls to engage with digital making.