Women in technology has been gaining momentum recently, precipitated in part by specifics like the Ellen Pao case, which dealt with ingrained sexism in Silicon Valley, but also by broader initiatives such as technology companies starting to release workforce diversity reports.
I've recently been covering the topic myself, highlighting how the gender imbalance in the tech sector has actually got worse over the past decade. So I was pleased to see the BBC taking up arms in the cause with a programme focused around girls and coding, dubbed (misleadingly as it turns out) Girls Can Code.
As the UK's public service broadcaster, the BBC is in an optimum position - more so than individual schools and skills groups - to convey to young women that coding and other technology roles are geek chic rather than nerd. So it was with a real sense of disappointment that I watched the two hours of programming and realised that no actual programming was on show.
The warning signs were there early on, when the host of the programme - a Radio 1 DJ, of course - explained that the mission of the experiment was to teach five girls that "tech isn't just about computers and coding, it's about everything around us, from shopping to music to fashion".
Aside from the lazy stereotyping that the only way to get women interested in technology is to dumb it down via a cashmere jumper or skater dress, surely the problem the BBC and programme makers should be dealing with is that girls aren't interested in the coding and computers bit, and how to challenge and overcome those perceptions.
Over the course of the two episodes, many business women were featured, including an ex-model who now fronts a wearable tech company, a tech venture capitalist and an entrepreneur who set up a website business. Actual female technologists were in short supply.
There was a brief appearance from a female software engineer, who showed the five girls an app that lets you test how different lipsticks would look on you - a wasted opportunity somewhat as they just played around with the app, with lots of oohs and aahs about how great that shade of plum lipgloss looked, rather than being shown the underlying technology.
In fact, when one of the girls asked how the app works, the software engineer responded: "That's where coding comes in." And there the thorny subject of coding was left - we don't want to get all technical after all, this show is aimed at women.
Apparently the five girls did spend two days at coding classes, but most of them said it was boring, tiring or they didn't really get it. We never actually saw any of them doing the work, we just heard a few lines from the trainers on how they got into the coding education business. The one girl who did like the coding training said she didn't want to admit that on TV, showing what a perception problem there is still to overcome.
Dr Sue Black made a fleeting appearance, talking about how being a 25-year-old divorced mother inspired her to take a maths degree and get into tech. Black, now armed with a PhD in software engineering and a role as senior research associate in the Department of Computer Science at University College London, is one of the highest-profile female tech specialists and a fantastic role model for all wannabe technologists. I'd have loved to see her with a more prominent role in the programme, perhaps leading a coding exercise to show how being hands-on with tech doesn't have to be tiring and boring, and can lead to amazing opportunities.
Suffice to say by the end of episode one, I was quietly weeping inside and had to force myself to continue onto episode two for the purposes of research and with a vague glimmer of hope that this would perhaps be where the girls showed they can code.
But no. If anything it got worse. During a visit to Shazam, we found out the firm has 70 engineers and 13 designers - so there's clearly an opportunity for technology specialists to work at cool firms - and heard that the "code must be rocket science". Unfortunately we didn't find out how this rocket science bit worked, as that was just portrayed by the Hollywood-favoured trick of showing some lines of code on a screen.
I think the real low point of the two hours had to be the Internet of Things fruit bowl, however. This was the brainwave of one of the girls, who was paired with a (male) tech expert to help develop the product. "We just need to put some code into it now. Most of it we can copy and paste from the web so it's quite easy," he cheerfully remarked. And then he did the coding.
That's right - in Girls Can Code, the girls can't code and need a man to do it for them. Just like Barbie.
The programme finished with this insight from the DJ host: "Can girls code? Well some can, some can't, same as the boys."
As one of my colleagues politely pointed out, I'm not exactly the target market for this programme, being well past school and university age. And it's probably true that teenage viewers would have found it an entertaining watch, even if there was nothing in the two hours to inspire young women to take up a career in software development.
The BBC got it spot on with its recent Algorithms programme, part of the same Make It Digital series, which managed to dumb down the subject enough to make it accessible without banishing technology explanations. It's just a shame the broadcaster wasn't brave enough to feature a technology whizz for at least one of the five girls, to show how brilliant females can be at tech, highlight career paths open to them and, if nothing else, avoid the cringe-making ‘Coding needed? Call in a man' scenario.
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