Running the Numbers: Why diversifying tech starts with maths

Vinne Schifferstein
By Vinne Schifferstein | 12 November 2020
Vinne Schifferstein

Vinne Schifferstein, managing director, MediaMonks Australia

Mathematics can be a hard subject to learn, and it’s a challenge to get children to fall in love with it. Yet however daunting it can feel to learn maths at school, the subject has become more important than ever in today’s digital society.

It’s clear how reliant we have become to digital over the past decade, relying on technology in every fabric of society from work to socialization and recreation­­—opening up a high demand for STEM careers, especially when automation begins to weave itself into industries that before seemed immune to it. Everything is a tech company now.

Australia Lags in Maths Proficiency

Proficiency in mathematics will be critical to success and deserves focused attention in our society. Yet last year, Australia was number 29 on the PISA ranking for mathematics: 3.5 years behind in mathematics literacy compared to China and 3 years behind compared to Singapore. But more alarmingly, the study found a significant gender gap in maths performance in favour of male students.

We still have a great deal to do in motivating students in maths and science, as one in three boys and only one in six girls expect to work in science or engineering, and even fewer are interested in ICT as a career, according to Professor Deborah Corrigan from Monash University. And as we prepare the next generation for tomorrow’s needs, we must work to make STEM careers more accessible for young women and ambitious girls—and that begins with maths in the classroom.

The Crucial Need for Diversity in Tech

It’s funny to say about oneself, but I happened to be quite good at maths in school. It came to me naturally, and therefore I didn’t need the fun factor to motivate me. Nevertheless, it has never occurred to me to do something with that skill—to study coding, data science or something alike. I went and studied communications science along with all the other students (mostly girls) who were good at languages, which really wasn’t my strongest suit.

Therefore it (sadly) doesn’t surprise me that in 2017 only 30% of women represented the computer science workforce. Yet a study found that girls can easily be inspired to become coders: girls ages 10 to 12 can come to see themselves as coders in as little as a week. Educators’ own biases around gender can affect how they recognise skills and behaviours, making initiatives like Code like a Girl, a social enterprise very dear to MediaMonks’ heart, are crucial in making tech accessible, inclusive, open and most importantly fun. By offering a range of educational and inspirational resources, they help women upskill in tech.

Making the Commitment to Closing the Maths Gap

If women are not entering these fields because they don’t think they have the right skills or the right personality to succeed, then they are losing opportunities. Furthermore, the technology industry is losing the diversity of ideas and input from women that could enhance the technological innovations of the future.

Of course, proficiency in maths really isn’t the single solution to getting a larger variety of people into tech, and it certainly isn’t the “one thing” you need to get into tech. But it would make kids’ lives easier if they’d have fun learning maths; when one’s inspired, learning comes easily. And having maths in the pocket at least doesn’t close any doors for you.

We can only help kids by creating experiences with empathy—truly stepping into their shoes to create immersive experiences that resonate with them and support their individual strengths and weaknesses. There’s a wide range of apps and websites trying to accomplish just that; some for self-learning, some as blended learning tools. Australia is a breeding ground for excellent education technology solutions, such as Mathletics and Cluey Learning.

But without the support and push by the government, it is hard to really improve an educational system at its core. The Department of Education from New South Wales in Australia recognised this, and created a programme to help parents inspire their children’s love of mathematics.

We are absolutely proud to play a part in NSW’s Department of Education campaign to improve perceptions of mathematics in New South Wales. You can see our work in the new digital experience Everyday Maths, which is aimed at involving parents and guardians in their children's mathematics learning, and supporting them to feel more confident in talking with their child about mathematics. This digital experience aims to make maths fun and more relatable.

More importantly, the initiative is a testament to how more diverse teams are essential to embedding empathy into digital experiences–and in turn, help empower audiences in innovative, new ways. In this respect, using digital to make maths more accessible—and initiate the next generation of women in tech—is truly an investment in the future of our society as a whole.

Check out WoMMen in Tech to learn more about how MediaMonks is contributing to this goal.