June 20th is Impact Journalism Day, a global media campaign to spotlight solutions. The Huffington Post is one of more than 45 news organizations committed to publishing solutions-based stories that can inspire change on a global level.
Last summer, Salonica Law School students Anastasia Siapka and Maria Dermetzi were brainstorming together about how to set up a small business. Soon, however, they realized that to implement any project they needed good programming skills—which they did not have—and the know-how to set up a good website. Thus they started surfing the web, looking for information in English.
And that was it! The idea was born. The difficult task they faced turned into their source of inspiration. In August 2014, they set up “Code it like a girl,” a small enterprise aiming precisely to aid young women to familiarize themselves with programming and other basic technological skills. And in this way they are contributing to bridging the gender gap that still exists in new technologies.
Within three months the two law students had built from scratch an attractive website of their own (www.codeitlikeagirl.com) as well as beautiful personal web pages. They started their first activities almost immediately. Since then, they have been organizing seminars which provide women with basic skills (HTML and CSS) that enable them to set up websites and blogs. Their business idea is now taking the legal structure of a cooperative, with six young women as members.
“Precisely because we ourselves faced so many challenges in our attempt to set up a website, and had to put instructions together from different sources in English, we thought it would be very useful to help Greek women who want to do something similar,” 21-year-old Anastasia Siapka explained to the Greek newspaper Ta Nea.
“We wanted to help women become familiar with basic coding techniques, to acquire knowledge and skills. Today, if one wants to learn programming, one can find material and lessons online. Most of this material, however, is available only in English. We felt the need to provide similar material in our language, Greek, for all those women who have little or no knowledge of the English language. And of course, by developing at the same time a more personal relationship with them,” adds 22-year-old Maria Dermetzi.
The basic aim of “Code it like a girl” is to bridge the gender gap that still exists in information and communication technologies. “We had noticed that women are underrepresented when it comes to technology. The fact that we were rarely meeting other women at any technology-related event we were attending was quite stunning,” says Maria. Along the way, she continues, we discovered many studies that supported our empirical observation. Across Europe, only 30% of all those employed in IT technologies are women, and only 9% of all applications have been developed by women. “We saw that on the one hand women were not going into informatics and related sciences for higher education. And on the other, that the skills mastered by women who had completed such studies and had entered the labour market were often undervalued or underutilized, when compared with their male colleagues. With our project we intend to focus on the need to empower women and strengthen their self confidence in this field.”
Six young women are participating in this original project, which is now in the process of taking the legal structure of a social cooperative enterprise. Of these, three have a technical background, while the other three have learned coding by themselves. “We have tried to have women from different backgrounds, such as business and economics, in order to contribute to the success of our project,” says Maria.
“Code it like a girl” has already had an impact, for it looks like women are very much interested in getting trained in new technologies. “Many women heard about our project and were asking when we would start the seminars,” says Anastasia. Women of all ages have shown interest, including some above 60. These findings emerged from a questionnaire published online, to accompany the announcement of the imminent start of seminars. “We got replies from women aged 30 to 60. Actually, the number of those in the age group 40 to 60 was not at all negligible.”
The founders of “Code it like a girl” may be addressing themselves specifically to women. However the message they are sending out is relevant to young people in general. “We must encourage young people to get involved in similar ventures. We have already learned many skills.”
The activities of “Code it like a girl” started as soon as we came up with the original idea, say the two students, thrilled and enthused. Very soon they were selected for the “Angelopoulos – Clinton Global Initiative University” fellowship. They received 10,000 euros and travelled to the United States where they met other students from around the world who had also submitted interesting original projects. There they became familiar with the vision guiding the Clinton Global Initiative University, established useful contacts, and took part in seminars that helped them develop their new, small enterprise.
While completing the seminars organized by “Code it like a girl”, the female participants also fully develop their own website. In other words, the training is “hands on” and is linked to the realization of actual small business projects that require basic knowledge of HTML and CSS, and the creation of web pages. The seminars consist of three meetings, for a total of four-and-a-half hours of training. The expectation is that the “graduates” of these seminars will become members of a growing community of women active in the technological field. As the founders of “Code it like a girl” put it, “Our dream is to become an incubator for new business ideas and for the applications needed to successfully develop them.”