“Girls who code”: a feminine taste of a career in technology

Well established in the United States, the non-profit “Girls who code” is trying to reverse the steady decline in the number of women in technology. (Picture: courtesy)

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THE TECHNO DOOR ADVICE. Sixty-nine Canadian women aged 14 to 17 — including a small number of Quebec women — took part in August in the first summer camp organized in the country by the non-profit organization (NPO) “Girls who code”, in collaboration with Morgan Stanley.

Well established in the United States, the NPO is trying to reverse the steady decline in the number of women in technology. According to data provided by Morgan Stanley, this proportion has fallen from 37% to 21% since 1990.

“I think there are different factors [qui expliquent cette baisse], supports Sophia Bennaceur, Chief Operating Officer and Regional Manager of Morgan Stanley Montreal and Technology Montreal. The problem starts at school [primaire et secondaire].”

She explains that studies “show that women are more attracted to environments that have tangible results” and therefore if it remains abstract, they will not be attracted. Hence the importance of introducing them to this field early, she says, taking the example of her daughter who discovered this universe in secondary five, which Sophia Bennaceur considers “still a bit late”.

“It’s necessary [leur] show the positive effect it can have in the field [bancaire, NDLR], for example”, adds the head of operations. It is also necessary to recruit more young junior women, she believes, mentioning in passing that there is a very interesting pool in CEGEPs and universities.

A quick program

As part of the summer camp, which lasted two weeks and completely remotely and in English, the teenage girls learned the basics of computer programming thanks to the teachings of one of the organization’s teachers. As a final project, they were led to develop a website that focused on important social issues such as ecology, diversity, etc.

“The objective is to [leur] give the desire to explore a career in technology”, specifies Sophia Bennaceur. She also said she was impressed to see that in two weeks, the girls managed to set up the structure of a website, although not finished.

Morgan Stanley’s role focused on the ‘career’ aspect through workshops, including one on cybersecurity, mentoring and discussions about the career paths of the company’s women in technology. This approach is also applied internally, specifies the head of operations.

“We have a lot of specific recruitment activities for women, among others, on campus,” she explains. The company says it supports 150 technology students per year in Montreal alone.

The problem is not only at the start of a career, but also in the middle, specifies Sophia Bennaceur, when women move on to other fields for lack of progression. This is why “we have mentoring programs for junior women, to allow them to have a mentor and develop a network,” she adds.

A French edition to be planned?

The relationship between “Girls who code” and Morgan Stanley is not new. The first steps of this summer camp date back to 2018, a period during which the company and the NPO joined forces to try to integrate programming into the school curriculum of students or into the library program.

“The plan was to start creating “Girls who code clubs” by bringing young girls together in the same room,” continues Sophia Bennaceur. The pandemic, however, cut off the momentum of the initiative, which survives a little elsewhere in the rest of Canada, but which was never able to see the light of day in Quebec.

The summer camp idea was seen as a way to pick up the project where they left off before COVID-19. For the next editions, Sophia Bennaceur does not hide her desire to offer a French version to attract more young girls from Quebec. A request has been made to the NPO, but the final decision remains beyond its control.

“We need tutors who are able to support Francophones,” she continues. We are working with our partners to attract more young girls from Quebec. It’s a real wish.”

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