Yesterday was Ada Lovelace Day. At our Restart Party in a community space in Euston only a couple of miles from one of Lovelace’s London residences, few participants knew who she was: one of the pioneers of computing.
The commemoration was started “to raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering and maths by encouraging people around the world to talk about the women whose work they admire”. In the UK, the statistics related to women in STEM are not encouraging, in fact they are so depressing we will not repeat them here.
At our community events, we have been struck by how natural it is for men to disassemble, troubleshoot and obsess over the electronic devices of strangers, whereas skilled women are often reluctant to do the same. We see men tinker with toasters and open up laptops with joy, mostly anxiety free.
Women often make excuses, or put conditions on their skills, like “I know how to solder but it’s been a long time” or “I know a lot about desktop PCs, but I can’t help with laptops” or “I don’t feel comfortable working on somebody else’s machine”. While we can respect these may be valid responses, we rarely hear them from men.
In response, we have started a series of women’s skillshares, where we gather and give ourselves permission to tinker and learn together. We’ve invited women in tech we really admire, like Emilie Giles (Codasign), Paula Graham (Flossie and Fossbox) and electronics designer Coralie Gourguechon.
This has really paid off, with new involvement and excitement by women.
But our group of active Restarter volunteers in London is still only 10% women. (This number is roughly equivalent to the number of women in engineering in the UK.)
We wonder how much we can really do to help rescue the “restart spirit” if it was slowly undermined during women’s childhoods and formal education.
Personally, I remember being called a “bitch” for having a strong opinion and speaking my mind while growing up. Many of my best friends at school were girl geeks attracted to science and technology. And I noticed that girls who are interested in science and technical pursuits faced similar resistance, some of it more subtle.
We think changes must happen early on. Which is why we encourage parents, family and educators to think:
– are they as supportive when a daughter has taken apart some household electronics on the living room floor, as opposed to a son?
– when a girl makes something, even if non-technical, is it valued?
– do girls have making and mending role models, both male and female? Are girls involved in DIY and other geek activities at home?
– is there tinker space at home for girls? Are these “invited spaces”? If so, do girls and boys get the same invitations?
– if you buy tools and electronics for girls, are they “pinked” and “shrinked”?
– in schools, how can we ensure that in educational teardowns and taking apart activities, girls are just as hands-on? (even when in our first workshop with DT teachers, we brought this up)
We’d love to hear your feedback, and we’d love to hear from women Restarters or aspiring Restarters on the comment thread below.