Career orientation in pink? How to attract girls for technical professions without discriminating them?

Career orientation for girls

A lot of career orientation initiatives pursue the goal to increase the interest of girls in technical professions. As an example for Germany, the nationwide campaign Komm, mach MINT! (Go MINT) informs about events, campaigns and projects concerning this issue. In the age of digital media, the question occurs how girls can be approached in a gender-sensible way via online campaigns. How should webpages be designed? Should technical aspects be all in pink? Should there be a focus on certain topics like health, fashion or environmental protection?

Girls in technology

Girls are underrepresented in technical subjects as well as in technical vocational trainings. As one of the main reasons, the lack of self-efficacy has been discussed as well as the fact that technical aspects are still more associated with male than with female attributes (Blossfeld 2009). As a result, girls don´t identify with technical professions. Additionally, studies have shown that girls are less interested in technical topics because they are abstract and far away from their own daily lives (Prenzel et al. 2009). Pfenning et al. (2011) describe a structural and individual form of discrimination of girls with a technical interest. They have to fight against stereotypical beliefs that technology is men´s business as well as they have to proof that they are as skilled as boys in a technical field which is mostly dominated by men. Therefore, girls need a strong self-esteem.

Besides the discussion in the research sector, the topic is also relevant for online campaigns. The question is how girls can be approached on a digital platform without discriminating them. The challenge to promote a technical profession without communicating a deficit in the career choice of girls is not easy. After all, girls should not be told they make ‚wrong‘ career choices but rather that a) they are as qualified as boys to do a technical job, b) technical professions can be fun and c) technical professions offer modern jobs which are rich in variety and often well paid.

A very interesting observation of studies in Germany shows that girls prefer engineering subjects with a social usability value. Subjects like environmental protection or environmental technics have a proportion of women of 30 to 40 %, while other subjects like electronic engineering or mechanical engineering have 10 %. A social usability value, especially sustainability, if it is visible, can increase the attractiveness of a technical profession.

Social media analysis

Part of the research project Serena is the participation of girls at the age of 13-15 years in the game development of a serious game about renewable energy technologies. To answer the question how the girls should be approached, a qualitative and quantitative analysis has been realized. Relevant literature, an online-survey (55 participants) and two student-workshops (43 participants) as well as seven interviews with experts in the fields of career orientation of girls via social media have been evaluated.

One of the results is that especial audio-visual forms of digital media can be helpful to approach the target group. 50 % of the questioned girls mentioned a Youtube-Channel as one of their favorite websites. The qualitative analysis of the two workshops have shown that the girls are very interested in daily activities of their Youtube-Celebrities, what they experience and what kind of information they share. Authenticity is also very important to the girls. They prefer a craftswoman doing skilled manual work instead of a celebrity pretending to do so. Even bad experiences are welcome as long as they are shared honestly and at best giving a solution or giving advice. Facebook was less relevant to the questioned girls. Besides Youtube, social media channels like Instagram, SnapChat or WhatsApp are used by the girls very often. Facebook is, regarding the experts, more of importance to reach multipliers.

Another interesting result of the analysis was that girls are less interested in online campaigns which focus on their deficit. The deficit of being a minority in a technical field should not be in the spotlight. Instead the focus should be on the content. However, the opinions differ at this point: some of the experts criticize the accentuation of a campaign exclusively for girls, others are convinced it can be a chance for girls to know upfront that this campaign is made for them. Not in favor were also websites which are too cute or dinky. The questioned girls preferred pictures and graphics which match their aesthetic preferences. Topics should be connected to their personal interests and daily life. Texts should be written gender-sensible.

Our results in an overview

  • less facebook, more youtube (or other video platforms)
  • texts written by girls at the same age
  • authentic and transparent communication in all posts of the website
  • authentic role models, less celebrities, more daily life experiences
  • gender-sensible, appealing visual concept
  • focus on the social usability value of technology
  • promote technical profession as attractive jobs for girls

Our conclusion: Setting up a Youtube-Channel with personal messages of young women in a technical field would be very promising to reach girls at the age of 13 to 15. However, shooting professional videos can be very expensive. Social networks or messenger-services are strongly used, but often generate limited access for a career orientation campaign because of closed groups and more importantly because they depend on personal phone numbers of the target group. Experiences of successful career orientation programs which use messenger-services are not known in Germany. Recently, some online magazines started to offer a newsletter service via WhatsApp.

After all, the results are not new, instead they confirm existing research findings. However, regarding the concept of an online career orientation campaign for girls in the field of technical professions, our results can be helpful and should be considered to avoid discrimination in an online campaign.

 


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