The relatively simple steps listed below can go a long way toward increasing girls’ participation in computing competitions. Taking these steps also improves these competitions for all students.
- Make sure promotional materials represent and appeal to girls
- Actively recruit girls
- Provide ongoing encouragement for girls to enter these events
- Allow students to choose projects focused on social and cultural problems important to them
- Encourage both individual and group entries
- Host an open house or “how to” night
- Emphasize learning and include a range of ways to “win”
- Include female mentors, educators, and judges in competition events
- Make the space and time appealing and accessible to everyone
- Educate parents, mentors and others involved
Include pictures of diverse girls and descriptions of projects that will attract a range of students. Avoid using “masculine-associated” language like “rockstar,” “hacker,” or “ninja.” Emphasize that there are different ways to win (see #7). Make sure other promotional materials (e.g., t-shirts) are also designed for girls.
Go where the girls are (e.g., girls’ sports teams; girls’ clubs; math, science, yearbook, graphic arts classrooms). Include past female winners or other female role models in recruiting (in person or video) and make sure they represent a range of girls and gamers.
Encouragement is important because being a minority in a competitive environment often reduces confidence, risk-taking, and performance. Let parents and adult influencers know that repeatedly encouraging girls to participate significantly reduces these effects and boosts confidence.
Emphasize that using technical skills to make a difference in real life is also important for winning. Give examples of how past projects have helped people or society.
Offer assistance in putting together teams and help pair contestants with less experience with peer mentors who have more experience. Putting together all girl teams can be helpful, especially for first-time participants, but mixed-gender teams also have benefits.
Getting a chance to ask questions, see what it’s like to be on a robotics team, or experience a practice hack-a-thon can help new contestants feel more comfortable. If an in-person event isn’t possible, consider how students might try out simulated activities online.
Create categories without time pressure and provide ways to win that do not require aggressive interactions. Give awards for creativity, making an important contribution to society, functioning as a highly effective team, or gaining significant learning. Make sure these awards are still focused on tech-related accomplishments rather than peripheral areas like “team spirit.”
Consider having female speakers talk about their careers and how they create with technology in “real life.”
Be sure to avoid scheduling conflicts (e.g., girls’ sporting events). Also consider safety and transportation issues and whether some students can only come on weekends or evenings.Hold the competition in a gender-diverse space (e.g., not at the local game store) or as part of a larger event that already attracts girls. Provide spaces (e.g., at school, community centers) where students without access to technology at home can work on projects. Make it clear if scholarships are available.
Ensure that these folks are aware of the above suggestions and why they are important. Talk with them about how being a minority in an environment can raise anxiety and dampen performance and how the above actions can reduce these effects.
"If the competition is skewed gender-wise, this adds to the fear, singling her out and putting more pressure on her as the minority to ‘represent’ and perform better."
Murphy, M.C., Steele, C.M., & Gross J.J. (2007). Signaling threat: How situational cues affect women in math, science and engineering settings. Psychological Science, 18, 879–885.
Good, C., Aronson, J., & Harder, J.A. (2008). Problems in the pipeline: Stereotype threat and women’s achievement in high-level math courses. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 19, 17–28.