Divas with an eye for technology

Digital Divas

The last few years have seen a pronounced drop in the number of young women who pursue study and a career in information communication technology (ICT). But thanks to an innovative project called Digital Divas researchers are hoping to reverse the trend.

The collaborative project between researchers from Monash University’s faculties of Information Technology and Education, and Swinburne and Deakin universities has seen the development of an innovative program with the aim of increasing the number of girls who pursue a career in ICT.

Monash University’s Associate Professor Julie Fisher said that while young girls enjoy at using many ICT applications in the early years of secondary education, minimal numbers follow through with academic study at VCE and tertiary levels or take up employment opportunities within the industry.

“The number of young women entering the ICT workforce has been dropping for a number of years,” Associate Professor Fisher said.

“The Digital Divas project has been developed with the aim of helping to reverse that trend and convince female students that an ICT career or course is an attractive option for their future.

“It is aimed at girls in years eight, nine and ten, and since its first trial in 2008 ten schools have offered the girls-only elective designed by the research team.”

Research has found that girls are less likely to be interested in ICT where co-ed courses are offered; boys tend to dominate the discussions and activities, while in single-sex classes girls are happy to explore and discover together.

Each of the schools involved in the project run girls-only ICT classes covering the three components of the Digital Divas program: the curriculum, informal mentoring by female university students studying information technology (IT) and regular presentations by women working in ICT.

One of the first aims the program tries to do is break down the myths many girls have of ICT industry.

“It has been interesting to see that a majority of the girls at the start of the program have the same stereotypical image of a person working in IT,” Associate Professor Fisher said.

“It is as a middle-aged male who does programming. The program aims to challenge this image and open the girls’ minds to the possibility of pursuing a career in ICT.

The curriculum aspect of the program involves a range of modules that allows the girls to learn about ICT through real-world applications of graphic programs, video-editing, games development and data analysis.

The girls also have access to Expert Divas – female students from both Monash and Swinburne universities’ faculties of Information Technology – who provide informal mentoring. The Expert Divas work in the classroom with the girls and well as acting as ongoing role models.

A valuable component of the program is the regular classroom presentations by young women working in a variety of areas within ICT industry to show the diverse career paths available.

“From the girls’ post surveys analysed so far, we are seeing a change in attitude, with many finding that participating in Digital Divas has broadened their understanding of ICT,” Associate Professor Fisher said.

“We aim to track the programs impact on the girls’ attitudes towards ICT and ICT careers as they complete their Year 11 and 12 studies and beyond to see if they are heading into a career in IT.

“But only time will tell if we can reverse the decline in the number of girls pursuing ICT careers.”

The research team believe the Digital Divas program will stimulate girls’ interest in ICT and associated careers, and can be easily integrated into a school’s curriculum.

The Digital Divas project is funded through the ARC Linkage project scheme and industry partners the Australian Computing Society, Victorian ICT for Women Network and the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.