DigiGirlz program “rox their sox”

This past November, 150 girls from grades seven and eight in the Peel region of Ontario descended on Microsoft Canada’s Mississauga office for three days. They were there to learn about fun and rewarding careers in technology – and to be inspired to continue taking programs in school that would enable them to enter into careers in IT.

Despite the downturn in many industries, companies in the IT sector still foresee an impending skills shortage, with some 90,000 job that will need to be filled in the next three-to-five years, says Microsoft. This shortage is particularly pronounced among women, who aren’t enrolling in programs that will lead them into IT.

In fact, says Shann McGrail, business director of Microsoft Canada, many girls opt out of math and sciences by the time they reach high school. The time to inspire women to view technology careers, McGrail says, is when they’re young.

Enter Microsoft’s DigiGirlz Program, which was launched in 2000 in the U.S., and has expanded to 17 cities in the U.S., the U.K. and Sweden ... and now, Canada, as of February 2008.

The program is designed to shake-up the perceptions of pre-teen girls, and the teachers that accompany them, through a mix of seminar sessions, hands-on activities, break outs, and discussion. The sessions are aligned with topics that young girls are often interested in, such as fashion and technology, and how technology can make an impact on society. And, the girls got to meet real women working in IT, such as McGrail, Laura Williams, CIO of the Peel Region Board of Education, as well as a young fashion entrepreneur who uses her technology skills in her business.

McGrail says the feedback from the two session held to date – the one in November and an earlier session in February 2008 – has been very positive.

As an example, the girls were asked before the event how many of them were considering a job in technology. At the time, 27 per cent said ‘yes,’ 29 per cent said ‘no,’ and 44 per cent weren’t sure. After the event, 65 percent said ‘yes,’ 8 per cent were nay-sayers, and 27 per cent were considering the option.
Microsoft plans to continue to offer the DigiGirlz program.*

McGrail believes that part of girls’ initial reluctance relates to a “fear factor” about being able to cope with math and science that they need to overcome. Program such as DigiGirlz provides valuable mentoring and networking opportunities, as well as making some technology available for experimentation, to show young girls how big the opportunity to work in technology can be.

As for the participants – they left inspired: “This was a great experience and I know for a fact that I will be in a career related to tech since I know more about it. I just would like to say thanks to the presenters to show me/make me realize that I love tech and that for sure I will work in a career that connects to tech,” said one.
Or, as another young participant said: “I loved it, DigiGirlz rox my sox!”

*It should also be noted that IBM offers a week-long summer camp program for girls, with similar goals to introduce them to IT careers and encourage them to continue on with math, science and other technology-related courses in school.