The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is “cracking the code.” But with government funding for solutions to gender inequality in STEM currently frozen, how are women ever supposed to get their start? Former Women Of The Future winner and Girl Geek academy founder Sarah Moran is working on a solution.
If you’ve ever seen the film Hidden Figures, you’ll know that before the invention of computers women were the leaders in tech. The task of “computation” – reviewing complex mathematical data, typing and processing – was performed by highly educated women with meticulous, attention to detail and staying power. In fact, computing time was measured in “girl hours” and a “kilogirl” was a unit of computing power equal to 1000 girl-hours.
Yet today, tech is a male dominated profession and the number of women coders has gone backwards, from 35 per cent in the ’90s to 26 per cent.
I learned to code when I was five years old. At first, all I did was code games that my friends could play. By Year 9 I was the first girl at my school to enter a computer science competition. By Year 10, I was the last girl standing and didn’t continue into Year 11.
Girl Geek Academy (GGA).
Close your eyes. I want you to think of a coder. It’s OK if the image that popped into your head was a hoodie-wearing male hacker sitting alone in their bedroom. As long as we think that the start-up whizzkid is a man, while demanding women innovators deliver perfect business plans before getting a cent, we will continue to see a large difference in who builds our technology.
These gendered stereotypes have been terribly damaging to girls and young women, and this is what gave my cofounders and I the motivation to create Girl Geek Academy (GGA).
I wanted to create a space that challenged the traditional stereotype. Innovation doesn’t happen through this sameness. Neither does gender equality. The world needs women to be digital innovators to drive a gender equal future. But first we need to stop short-changing women.
Women led start-ups receive only 3 per cent of global venture capital investment. In Australia, that figure dropped to 0.7 per cent in 2021.
Girl Geek Academy is laser focused on advocating for gender equality in tech and startups. My role as founder has not been to make billions, but to build the community infrastructure we need to support women innovators.
I’m grateful for the project-by-project investment I have had from parts of the tech sector. Funding been critical, but also insecure and patchy. When corporate budgets are cut, our programs are usually the first to go.
I’m going to be brutally honest with you, I don’t know if Girl Geek Academy will survive. And we’re not the only organisation in this position. I’m concerned by the Minister for Industry and Science, Ed Husic’s “Diversity and STEM Review” which opened for consultations a few days ago, stalling funding on this issue until Labor’s third year in office.
When the International Women’s Day theme is “Cracking The Code: Innovation for a Gender equal future”, instead of taking urgent action, the government have instead frozen funding on any new community initiatives to address gender inequality in STEM and Entrepreneurship until after the 12 month review.
While other parts of the industry may be able to bear that, women can’t. Brakes on funding break us.
The average investment for all community programs supporting women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Entrepreneurship is barely $2.5 million per year. COVID19 wiped out a heap of affirmative action programs for women that used to exist on the smell of an oily rag and off the backs of women-led events and volunteers. Those that still do exist are struggling.
We urgently need a fund to support schools to engage girls in programming and coding, and to encourage big companies to offer tech work-experience for girls. We need early career programs and cash to boost early-stage start-ups led by women. We need funds to apply a gender lens on the lucrative games industry. And finally, we need funding to increase the number of women angel investors and venture capitalists.
The Government has committed to 1 Million tech jobs by 2030. Women must be equally included as part of the solution. The IWD theme “Cracking the Code” is based on the United Nations Committee for the Status of Women in New York happening this week. How amazing would it be if the Australian delegation could announce Australia’s commitment to a “Cracking the Code Fund” to signal the government’s intention to apply a gender lens on new emerging digital industries.
The hardest code to crack for a gender equal future is the unconscious bias we have against women’s genius.
I have been pushed out of tech again and again, and now I am hustling hard to stop that happening to other women and girls. But we need all hands on deck to get there.
Join me and the Girl Geek Academy team by signing our petition to get the government commit to an urgent “Cracking the Code” fund here.
It only takes a moment to add your voice. Let’s work together and give it a kilogirl of effort.