Melina Masnatta is a social entrepreneur in Education and Technology issues with a gender perspective (Ashoka Fellow). Graduated in Educational Sciences, she has a Masters in Educational Technology. She is also a National Art Teacher, Professor and Researcher.
Julieta La Casa has a degree in Cs. of Social Communication and journalist. She writes on topics related to the gender gap in science and technology, education, culture and the rights of children and adolescents. Journalism and content at Chicas en Tecnología.
In a world in which technology was already centre stage, it stepped forward to the forefront even in those sectors of the population and activities were, for different reasons, they still looked askance at it. The novel COVID-19 pandemic sped up the implementation of technological solutions in different areas and, thus, also exposed the existing gaps around the digital ecosystem.
At present, there are various pressing issues in terms of inequality. Technology seems boundless but it does not reach all sectors of the population in the same way and, assuming that universal access to connectivity and devices were guaranteed, there would still be training and skill debts to be able to integrate all people into the digital universe. But the approach cannot be limited solely to the use of technology, but instead, it is important to delve into the conditions in which that technology is thought-out, designed and created and how that impacts the people who engage with it. In this regard, it is impossible to avoid the gender gap.
In Argentina, STEAM field university system data reveal that, between 2010 and 2016, only 33% of women and 67% of men were enrolled as students, both in public and private universities. And if programming-related courses undergo a specific cutback, between 2010 and 2015 only 16.02% of enrolments correspond to women admissions and 83.98% to men. These numbers reveal that the lack of presence of women in technology development-related courses results in lower participation in job opportunities of the sector and leadership and decision-making positions. As with other minorities, women are not part of the creation of technology that encompasses new productive, labour, educational and cultural activities and roles day by day. The characteristics and particularities of these groups are not taken into account when considering the users of technological solutions because they do not take part in the work teams that develop solutions, which causes their needs and interests to lack representation.
Technology in Command?
Reducing the technological gender gap requires solving the challenges that impact both girls and adolescents in the present and future. In this, the educational field has a key role in a twofold context: on the one hand, it is essential to encourage the vocation for technology and STEAM disciplines in girls from an early age and to put an end to gender stereotypes in the educational system that distance the girls from these areas; and, on the other hand, it is important for education to offer training that includes the necessary skills so that new generations can become people with diverse and inclusive leadership qualities. So, technology in command? Far from affirming that outlook that would facilitate the current and future context, it is necessary to insist that this does not just concern devices and screens, but also reflecting and reconfiguring the pedagogical proposal that accompanies and shapes the coming generations that will create technology. And in this approach, shaping educators is also a vital factor because they are the ones who have to develop strategies to implement technology and the skills it implies in educational systems. These individuals play a key role in transforming education to innovate and integrate knowledge and experiences.
Chicas en Tecnología, the Argentine non-profit civil society organization that, since 2015, has been seeking to reduce the technological gender gap, works to generate a systemic change that involves the educational and technology-based entrepreneurship field, public and private sector, that allows creating an environment in which young women can grow in STEAM disciplines and be industry leaders.
The organization has open and free programs and initiatives, which have already reached more than 5000 young women from Argentina and the region, who are the centre of the experience and learn about the technology-based entrepreneurship ecosystem through immersive proposals and exchanges with industry models. Chicas en Tecnología seeks that participants become creators of technology with a social impact and of solutions that address the problems and needs of their local contexts. Through articulated work with public and private sector leaders, young women between ages 13 and 21 have created more than 600 technological solutions to solve problems within their communities. The organization’s programs also reach vulnerable areas, where there are usually greater inequalities and people have less access to devices and connectivity, so that young women can become part of the world of Technology and strengthen the positive impact that technology has on their communities. For the implementation of its programs, Chicas en Tecnología counts on a network of more than 200 references and mentors who are educators and professionals from the tech environment and who support and accompany the girls throughout the programs.
During the first years, the organization has received acknowledgements from entities such as the Argentine Ministry of Education, governmental organizations such as the Legislature of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, and national and international foundations such as Equals and Ashoka which allowed a greater reach of their Programs. Education is one of the major axes on which Chicas en Tecnología works — together with gender, technology and entrepreneurship — with part of its initiatives being focused on shaping educators in technology-based entrepreneurship world skills so that they can bring together this knowledge with the knowledge gained in school. This is how educators of different levels and disciplines learn about computational thinking, agile methodologies, creation of technological solutions with a social impact, communication and leadership to empower and enrich the pedagogical resources they already have and include the gender perspective to promote inclusion- and diversity-based training. To specify the local transformations that can have an impact on the decisions and choices made by girls and young women, Chicas en Tecnología creates solutions together with different social, cultural and economic leaders. We are, therefore, able to create an ecosystem in which the young women in the region find and choose possibilities for personal, academic and professional growth in STEAM disciplines and so they can become creators of technology. The projects created by young women who are part of the Community of Chicas en Tecnologia demonstrate that they can generate social impact here and now, and that they need a supportive and motivating environment.
With each new participant in Chicas en Tecnologia´s programs new stories arise. For instance, S.A.C (alternative Communication System), an app created by a group of adolescents aimed at people who have communication problems, the app allows them to establish a dialogue in which their ideas can be better understood through pictograms. This app was recognized with an invitation to participate in the National Congress of Phonoaudiology 2019 and in the International Conference of Phonoaudiology 2019, where the girls were the youngest exhibitors. The curricula created by Chicas en Tecnología is not limited to showing a specific programming language to the participants or teaching them how to use a technological tool, but rather the organization’s programs encourage training based on a dynamic and contextualized curriculum that combines technical, technological, soft and impact skills. To grow as women leaders in the technology sector, young women need communication skills, to work in diverse teams and to be able to adapt to the change that will allow them to be at the forefront in constantly changing scenarios. These programs are created together with leading companies in the technology-based entrepreneurship field that are committed to generating inclusive environments in which women can fulfil leadership and innovation roles.
Reducing the gender gap in the field of technology requires that the entire society be involved in this problem since it encompasses multiple dimensions. Therefore, it is essential to identify its importance and make sure that it is placed on the agenda of public policies and development objectives of the private sector. With this in mind, Chicas en Tecnología carries out research projects to generate local and updated information on the gender gap in STEAM disciplines and to promote actions that contribute to reducing that gap. Additionally, these surveys allow for an informed and context-driven discussion to improve both present and future programs and actions and generate gender-based policies that consider current gaps. The organization reaches +4 million people through its social media, where they share open and free access data, which they also share in national and international media to reflect on the gender gap in technology.
Chicas en Tecnología began in 2015 with a faceto- face program in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and after a long journey in which it gained importance and impact, achieving national coverage, amid the pandemic, it launched its first online regional, open and free proposal just like all the others, which involves young women from6 countries (Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina). At a time when technology is a key component in local, national and global life, more young women need to get involved to come up with inclusive and innovative responses to current and emerging issues. The proposal for all of them is: “Wherever you are, transform the world with your technology.” And the commitment is to work so that increasingly more girls can achieve it.