Young Coders tackles gender diversity

By Meg Hill

Young Coders, a not-for-profit organisation founded in June 2017, is running entirely free coding classes for children in the CBD.

The organisation was born out of the need to combat the heavily male-skewed nature of the tech industry.

Kruti Patel founded Young Coders after numerous conversations about the lack of women in the industry, directing her efforts to what she identified as the “root”.

“I’m one of the few women in tech and for that reason I get pulled into a lot of conversations about diversity and women in the community and industry,” she said. 

Ms Patel said there were lots of complaints about difficulties finding women to hire, but that she believed attention needed to be directed far earlier than at the hiring process.

“We have to educate children so that girls are interested in tech at an early age and can get excited about it, then they can go into the engineering and editing, the maths and science fields,” she said.

“That was the reason that made me start Young Coders.”

But Ms Patel said that working with young children to combat the issue of sexism was sensitive, and that it was particularly important to not project the issue onto them.

“I felt that when I work with children I don’t want them to know that there is a diversity issue and we want to actually represent diversity and that’s the reason we teach both genders,” she said.

Young Coders workshops, which comprise about 30 children, are registered with a 50/50 ratio of boys and girls. It has classes for five-to-eight-year-olds and eight-to-twelve-year-olds.

The balance is struck by making a conscious effort to combat the early manifestations of sexism.

“There are a few main things which are very obvious with girls when they come to workshops. Some of the girls will be extremely quiet and boys will be answering questions over girls,” Ms Patel said.

“So, we make sure we give them opportunities and we ask them individually. Even though boys might have raised their hands, if we’ve noticed some girls are not talking a lot we might give them the attention and ask them more questions.”

Confidence levels are a big issue, with examples like these showing that boys are socialised from an early age to be more outspoken.

Ms Patel pointed out some of the other simple and common ways that young boys and girls are treated differently, which lead to problematic trends later in life. 

For example, young girls were given gifts like dolls, whereas boys were given electrical toys.

Ms Patel said this made a big difference, especially in relation to the tech industry. Just the pure fact that boys have been playing with tech at the simplest level for years makes them more confident and excited about it, while it remains an untested field for many girls.

“Making a conscious effort is what I feel is going to contribute to change,” she said.

Ms Patel still works full-time as a software engineer for a company called iflix while running Young Coders.

She said coming from India, where the issue of poverty deprived many of the right to education was particularly prominent, and this informed her determination to provide classes for free.

“I didn’t want to charge children a dollar. I’m just getting them excited about technology. That’s why it’s free,” she said.

Workshops are every Saturday from 12pm to 2pm at General Assembly in the city.

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