“I’m the only girl in my class”:

What supervising a 14-year old’s work experience meant to me

by Data Scientist, Erika Nitsch

Why are young women underrepresented in the Tech Sector? This is a problem Next Tech Girls, an initiative that facilitates work experience in the tech sector for girls aged 14-15, is trying to solve. Diversity in the workforce is important — it leads to better decisions and working at Metail, the advantages of a diverse workforce are obvious.

During an internal project on body shape, a (male) colleague asked the women in the office whether we thought it was better to talk about someone having “short legs” or a “long torso”. To us, the answer was obvious (in case you’re wondering, for a woman, “short legs” is not a compliment). The different genders, body shapes, nationalities and ethnicities in our offices make a great testing ground for new ideas. How many product launches are a total flop because of missed opportunities like this? (Dove’s body bottles, anyone?)

For the past two weeks I’ve been supervising the work experience of a Year 10 student who was nominated to the Next Tech Girls initiative by her teachers. Getting to know this young woman, and watch her share her enthusiasm for programming and technology has been a joy. We were impressed that she was already proficient with Javascript and Python, but even more surprised at her willingness to dive right in with problem solving, meetings, and new programming languages.

During our time together, I had the sense she felt different from other girls her age and that coming to Metail was special because it had allowed her to meet like-minded people, both male and female. Out of 34 students, she’s the only girl in her computer science class. It’s a loneliness that I can relate to and it’s probably why I raised my hand highest when Metail’s fabulous Talent Manager, Soraya, asked for volunteers.

Having an in-house champion like Soraya, who cares deeply about offering opportunities like this, is essential for programmes like Next Tech Girls to succeed. But I can’t help but ask myself, is there something more that I can do? Afterall, in a class of 34 computer science students born in the 21st century there is only one female. What are we missing?

There are some amazing organizations aimed at increasing opportunities in technology and programming for women and underrepresented groups. Starting June 14th, Metail’s Cambridge office will be hosting a monthly, free, workshop through Codebar, a non-profit initiative that aims to grow a more diverse tech community. My online research has also discovered Code Club, a volunteer organization running after-school programming clubs for children aged 9 to 11 and Code First: Girls, an organization providing training and networking to encourage women in technology and entrepreneurship.

Unless I’ve missed something, there’s a gap in support for teenaged girls in the UK who want to get into programming, the exact problem that our work experience student articulated. There’s an opportunity here to do something positive, something that I and my fellow colleagues have the resources and experience to address, but that we need the perspective and partnership of our Year 10 student (and others like her) to genuinely solve.

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