Should I give up? A mentor for young girls

  • Hi,

    Thank you for this space. A little introduction about myself, my name is Gisela, I live in London, I’ve a bachelor’s in computer science, my master’s in computer science and currently I work as a full time python developer here in London.

    The reason why I’m writing… 8 months ago I joined as a volunteer for a coder dojo in West London, teaching python, and this is run once a month. When I joined I immediately noticed how few girls the where, only 2 of a group of 20-30. Also all the python mentors where men, except for myself. I also noticed that the girls weren’t getting as much attention because they maybe weren’t so vocal asking for it.

    After a session or two I decided to start a girls table, where I’m the mentor, to try to create an environment were they could feel welcomed and encouraged. The kids didn’t have much material so I started to prepare tailored material every month to adapt to the different levels and ages. The number of girls started to steadily grow. Now in a bad day we have 4 and in a good day 7-8. I know 4-7 in a group of 30 is still bad but I think we are doing some progress from where we started 8 sessions ago.

    Nevertheless some mentors from the other groups within the dojo have voiced their concerns about the python girl’s table. One woman told me in the last session with a horrified face that I was segregating them, and yesterday another mentor (also father to one of the girls in my group) send a message to our mentors’ group saying unfair comments and saying the group was “worrying to say the least”. I’m doing my best to tackle a problem everyone was plainly ignoring when I joined and I find all this deeply discouraging and a quite infuriating to be honest. I feel like there is also an message of “they can’t be advanced if they are in a girl’s table” and “if they are advanced they should be with a man mentor”. Also I’m only receiving critics, no one has help with material or proposed alternatives.

    Should I give up? Should I join a girl’s only dojo? I would appreciate some opinions and if there is any encouragement available that would come in handy as well.

    Thank you all,

  • CoderDojo Foundation

    Hi @Gisela-Rossi Thanks for getting in touch & for sharing your experience in proactively trying to encourage more girls into your Dojo. It’s saddening to hear that you are finding it so challenging and that there is push back.

    Earlier this year, centrally at the CoderDojo Foundation we launched a CoderDojo Girls initiative. The ultimate goal is to achieve a greater gender balance within the CoderDojo community globally (globally it stands at 29%). There are a few purposes to this, firstly to start a conversation around what we can do to attract and retain more girls into the movement, document and share best practices that are working for Dojos and to highlight role models in the movement that are making efforts to increase girls attending Dojos.

    You may be glad to hear that one identified best practice is starting a girls table within a Dojo, where there are a female mentor to assist with new girls. It has worked successfully in increasing the overall % of girls within some Dojos. One interesting statistic is that every year when we run the global CoderDojo annual survey, the number of female mentors directly correlates with the number of female attendees, therefore the importance of role models and women like you within the movement cannot be underestimated.

    So far we have developed and launched two girls guide, one targeting parents and one targeting ninjas. Over the Summer we are developing a third guide targeting mentors and volunteers which will tackle the exact subject you are facing, it will include research on why its important to make these special efforts to reach young girls, point to sample content, best practices, top tips and also include some case studies. Our aim is that it is a practical guide for volunteers. So this year we’ve developed two Sushi series through a lense of diversity, app inventor and wearables. We’ve had very positive feedback from girls and boys in Dojos on these.

    To answer your question, I would encourage you to persevere. Clearly, the steps you are taking are having an impact. If you can tie back your actions to the overarching CoderDojo Girls initiative and explain why this is important.

    I would love to get your input on what you would like to see in the volunteer guide? Also if you have any feedback on the parent’s guide that you think would be useful to include which can be shared with parents in your Dojo please share. In addition, it would be great if you could share the content that you have been developing, we would love to include this on Kata and point to it in the guide?

    Thank you for everything you are doing to reach young girls

  • Docklands Dojo

    @Gisela-Rossi Hi Gise, first of all well done for deciding to tackle this very common problem and also for succeeding in bringing the number of girls up in your Dojo!

    The concerns about segregation of boys and girls are understandable, and I don’t I would recommend to running a regular exclusively girl’s Dojo. However I have seen other people on the forums make similar observations to yourself, that the girls are often quieter or shy compared to the boys, so if creating a space for them where they feel comfortable helps them come out of their shells and get more out of the Dojo then that’s great. And from what you’ve said it was working.

    Of course it is disheartening that your efforts have been met with negativity and I feel your frustration, but the fact that people are now voicing concerns means you have highlighted an issue that was previously ignored or unnoticed which is a great start!

    Communication is always key, so now that you’ve got everyone’s attention maybe sitting down and discussing the problem together with the champion and other mentors you might find a solution together, even if it is just a change in attitude or mindset of mentors at the Dojo, to be more aware of the needs of the girls as much as the boys.

    Running one-off girls’ events is something many Dojos are doing at the moment to try and attract more girls. It gives girls a chance to try out a Dojo when they either might not have known about it at all or they might have thought it was not for them, more of a “boys thing”. We recently ran one at the Docklands Dojo that focussed on wearable technology and it was a lot of fun!

    @Nuala-Nic-Éil or @Rachel-Schoene might be able to give you more advice. Don’t give up, you’re doing great!

  • CoderDojo Foundation

    Hi Gisela,
    I’m going to put my point of view as a community member, and not as a member of the Foundation; from the other side of the mirror, as a male mentor who actually participated into the event that Ciara described. As a man and a developer, i’m always a bit doubtful when it comes to a “girl-centric” movement/logic. If we want an egalitarian position, the same efforts should be done for both groups, and hence, not pushing for one in particular (“girls” vs “kids”). On the same tone, when you split yourself out of the group, you “identify” and prioritize a part of the movement.
    On the other side, coming from an engineering course, there was 1 girl for 35 person, in a pretty douchbag-centric environment; not only the students, but also on the teacher-side.
    My point is, you’re trying to fix a symptom rather than the real problem, applying a patch on a wooden leg. That’s not perfect, but that’s something.
    By splitting up the group, you’re isolating, in a visible manner. If it was a “girl-only” dojo, it would be against the inclusive clause of the Coderdojo mouvement (I guess?). But it wouldn’t be a less of “visible” discrimination than splitting a group in 2 in front of physical people, parents and kids. And “I” don’t believe kids thinks girls are less capable in a club environment.
    Maybe if we find the girls too shy, our work should partly, also, focus on giving them confidence? Does isolation help? Probably not. In our dojo, we try to make a demonstration at the end of each dojo of the kids progression to the others, so they can explain what they’ve done and why. Does that help? Maybe, I don’t know how to measure shyness :).
    When it comes to mentors remarks, maybe, it’s a communication problem : if you feel like you’re being flashed as dangerous, have a pint with the others mentors and discuss what you all can do to increase the girl engagement, don’t go on this as a personal crusade or you’ll necessary be flagged as “strange” (until you’re recognized for what you’ve done, but eh, between being constantly criticized and explaining what you’re trying to do, there is one step).
    tl;dr : don’t give up, communicate, explain and adapt :)
    PS: share your content !!
    PPS : there is a lot of maybes. It’s made upon assumption of what you’ve said us and what you may not have done. You may have communicated with mentors and my comment makes you look like you’re a solitary little-girl-sect-leader. Don’t take it personally if i’m wrong, but as a germ for thoughts.

  • Hi @Giustina-Mizzoni, thank you very much for this kind reply.

    I wasn’t aware of the CoderDojo Girls initiative, which makes me think that other people at my dojo might not be aware (and maybe at other dojos?). I’ll try to spread the word about this and share the guides you have linked. I’d love to contribute with the mentors guide with what I’ve learn so far that works with the girls. Also maybe a word of what you said that “the number of female mentors directly correlates with the number of female attendees” and that we should be making an effort to increase that number as well. What’s the channel to contribute to this?

    You mentioned that you have have been gathering information about practices that have given good results in increasing the percentage of girls. I’m very happy to hear that what I’m doing is one of those! Where can I find the information of which are the identified practices that work? I could learn from this and share it with the other mentors so that maybe some scepticism will be eradicated and we can ease the push back.

    Another thing I wanted to ask if there is a way to see the information on percentages of girls in different regions of the world and in different activities (python, scratch, etc), this would be very useful to track and measure how we’re doing in respect to the average and set goals.

    About the material I’ve being using, I’m putting together a repository to share publicly and make it easy to keep up to date and encourage external contributions and feedback. When that is ready I’ll make sure to share it with you, which is the best channel to send you this?

    Thank you again Giustina for the thoughtful response, for the encouragement and for the information. I’ll not give up, the road is long and hard but we’ll travel it together.


  • I’m not exactly sure why, but in our dojo we’re blessed with quite a lot of girls. We tend to have 1/3 girls and 2/3 boys in a group of ~25. In the first year we sadly didn’t even have a single female coach in our team, but I can’t see any difference after that changed. We do have one coach who brings his 3 daughters along, which I suspect created a solid base to build from in the beginning, so to say.

    I can’t say I’ve noticed any different treatments based on gender in our group. We treat everybody the same and that seems to work for us. When picking the ‘inspirational subject of the month’ about which to make a project if the kids need inspiration, we do purposefully try to pick very neutral things that don’t specifically target boys or girls. Usually a subject like holidays, colours, … We also don’t give any special treatment when dealing with registration or split up in groups at all. We do tend to see that new girls are generally less inclined to ask questions when they’re stuck in their program, but our coaches patrol quite a lot and we usually notice that rather quickly. After a session or two this shyness seems to vanish completely.

    We also give every kid the opportunity to present their work at the end of the session in the ‘show and tell’. Every kid gets roughly the same applause, which is something we didn’t have to explain to the parents.

    To be honest, the gender subject hardly ever comes up in our group, apart from positively noticing the percentage at the end of the year when we’re making the statistics (though I’d much rather like it to be 50-50). I’m not sure how this experience can be useful to others, but here it is nonetheless.

  • Hi Gise!

    I’m really sorry to read about your experience and I understand your frustration! I think like everyone is suggesting here, there isn’t enough visibility about the issue you are trying to address and how successful your efforts have been! We actually have more girls than boys at our Dojo and I’ve always found girls to be more engaged when they can sit with other girls, especially when they are new.

    I run the Robotics module at our Dojo and what started as a small duo of two girls has really grown over time, in fact some weeks I only have two boys now and I always let them work together when we do collaborative stuff.

    At our Dojo, we have catch-ups before each session and each module is overseen by a team. The catch-up is the place to go through concerns, raise any issues and to share techniques which are working. It also helps that we have someone who oversees all the logistical stuff and can be a neutral voice if there is tension between mentors and modules. If there is anyone like that at your Dojo I encourage you to go and have a conversation with them and explain your situation.

    Nobody should be made to feel left out or marginalized at Coder Dojo and that goes for mentors too! They can’t deny that you’ve upped female attendance, they just don’t understand how you did it. They won’t want to lose you and hopefully you can all come to a better relationship.

    If I was you, I would probably offer to explicitly combine the groups one week (a week where you have an average turnout of girls) and then ask for the ninjas for their feedback on how it went in the next week. How they feel is really the key I think.

    Also, coerce some of your awesome female computer scientist friends to volunteer with you if you can!

    Great work, good luck and keep on truckin’ you are doing amazing!


  • Docklands Dojo

    @Gisela-Rossi and anyone else interested, I came across this very informative guide today by CoderDojo Scotland.

    A lot of really interesting points in there, for example that girls can be put off going to a Dojo in the first place because they feel like the “odd one out”.

    It also offers loads of tips and advice on everything from running activities at a Dojo to wording your event descriptions, and has ideas and links to some useful resources as well.

  • Hi Gisela

    Please don’t give up! We (Niamh Scullion, Noel King and I) started CoderDojoGirls for this same reason. We had a group of 40 and a handful of girls.
    We noticed we got very few girls even trying the classes and many who did, didn’t return.

    We first tackled gender imbalance in our mentors. We had 2 of us female mentors and about 10 guys. We actively recruited friends for CoderDojoGirls.

    We started a girls only class in the same room as the mixed beginners class. We were overwhelmed with support seeing 20 girls coming once there was specific tickets for them. Parent feedback mentioned bad experiences bringing their daughters to coding clubs where they are completely outnumbered. There were delighted they could finally bring them somewhere they were comfortable.

    The girls class was so quiet! It’s astonishing how little confidence they have. Giving them their own space was key to building them up and making friends!

    See an article here for our feedback a year in

    Since then, our girls class has gotten smaller as many girls choose to join the mixed class as it’s led by two awesome mentors Catrina and Vanessa who started out as ninjas! They have pretty much 50:50 now :)

    I suggest getting feedback from parents of the girls to strength your argument. Would they still come if their daughter was one of two girls in a big noisy class? If one of the boys walked in to a class with 30 girls would they be happy to stay or would they feel like they didn’t belong?

    In every stage of my career I’ve been the only woman at a table at some stage. I’ve turned to girls in tech groups for support. I’d like to think that’s what CoderDojoGirls provides for younger girls.

    I would be happy to chat to you on Skype if you would like to chat further.

    Kind regards

    Also check out the awesome story of outbox incubator. There are lots of groups providing girls only support for a reason!

  • @Gisela-Rossi Another vote here to please stay with it! The need is real and the progress you are making with your group is real, even if the numbers are relatively low.

    We start girls-only teams, tables or groups with all of our STEM activities (we run FIRST and CyberPatriot programs in addition to CoderDojo) when the number of female participants fall way low (under 20%). With the changes the girls thrive and grow and eventually they choose on their own to join mixed teams or tables as they get older.

    The US has strong laws for equal opportunity in school-sponsored sports called Title IX. The same underlying principles apply to STEM activities in our view.

    One observation: the age the girls start in STEM activities does not matter - a 9 year old or a 16 year old can experience the same initial biases and lack of support. What matters is that they get a year or two to get their footing in these STEM activities. After that second year they seem to thrive.

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