Pip Green, head of corporate responsibility at CGI UK, explains their ‘bring your daughter to work’ initiative, to Johanna Hamilton AMBCS and why it’s so important to get girls into STEM subjects from an early age.

Talking from the organisation’s offices in London, Pip Green is part of a global IT company, headquartered in Montreal in Canada consisting of around 77,500 employees. As a large systems integration and consultancy organisation, its remit is to help big businesses implement better IT Solutions. Green explains how the ‘bring your daughter to work’ initiative began in the UK, where the company employs around 5,500 people across 20 different sites, and why it could be a game changer for the future of diversity in IT.

Tell me about the ‘bring your daughter to work’ initiative?

There is a lot of research about the reasons that stop girls going into tech, so at CGI, we saw a gap. We are an IT company and we felt there wasn’t enough being done to attract girls and older females into the industry. Women make up just 17% of the IT workforce. Although ‘A’ levels will be taken by marginally more girls than boys, the Computer Science ‘A’ level has a 93% male/7% female gender split - across all subjects, that’s just 0.4% of females taking a computer science A-level. We wanted to do our part to turn that around, to share our passion and excitement around technology and to reach out to, and engage girls.

The ‘bring your daughter to work’ idea originally came from one of the diversity and inclusion team and to begin with we just ran it in our London office. It’s one of a number of initiatives we operate and has grown from less than 100 girls on three sites, to over 150 across eight locations. The programme is held over three days back to back, focusing on 8-12 year-olds (though girls as young as six come along). And while some people questioned whether we were targeting children who were too young, in truth, it’s more important to target them when they're 6, 7, 8 because by the time girls are reaching 13 or 14, they have often already made decisions about which subjects they want to focus on.

Grabbing a child’s interest and enthusiasm at primary school, when they're really engaged and they're not embarrassed to show that interest and share it - is infectious. We try to make the events as fun and engaging as possible. We’re also aware that we’re quite a male-dominated organisation, but in order to give the girls positive role models - so they can see themselves in that role in the future – we try to get women to host and run the event.

The figures for women in IT has been a pretty static 14-17% for 20 years. Do you think this will be the generation that changes things?

I like to hope so, but I think education has a lot of catching up to do. I've been going to a lot of community groups and some are starting computational thinking from year one, however, I’ve been to some schools where children in years seven and eight have never even used Scratch. And by then you've missed it. I think for us to get more girls into STEM, or more people from diverse backgrounds, we’ve got to engage them at an earlier age.

Mums come up to me at the beginning of our event and say, ‘She's so unconfident, I don't know how she's going to cope today.’ But then the girls are at the front, putting their hands up, shouting out all the ideas because they are comfortable with the situation.

Research has shown that girls, for whatever reason, still underplay their confidence and their ability when boys are in the room and I think it actually starts really young. Separating girls out for science and maths is probably no bad thing, but the focus in education is all about integration and inclusion. That's where some of the benefit is around the ‘daughter to work’ days. We've had some input around wanting to involve boys and we do a lot of outreach to both genders, but I think there is a lot of benefit in separating the girls out and giving them that safe space to enjoy and try. In a mixed class, I think sometimes girls let the boys take over. I've seen it myself, they defer to the boys because it's technical and it's computers and it’s therefore seen as a ‘boy subject’.

I work in tech. I've worked in tech for 20 years but I'm not technical. There are different parts to working for a technical organisation, you don't have to be a coder.

We want girls, not necessarily to think about the coding, but how that code benefits people. We help hospitals, we help old people in their homes, we help the NHS to carry out appointments online, not necessarily face to face. It’s about giving them the opportunity to understand that technology is exciting and creative. Of course if they want to code, then that’s great too!

Do you think there's a dearth of women being shown as good coders and good computer scientists and that's why girls don't really see themselves going into that profession?

Yes, but when they get people who look like them, who can relate to them and tell their story, it becomes possible and attainable. We've done some community outreach where we get people talking about their relatable career journey, ‘I used to work in Sainsbury's. I used to do shelf-stacking and I realised that working hard and turning up on time meant I got promoted to assistant manager. Now, I'm working in an IT company and actually the skills are quite transferable because I still work with people.’

Tell me about what the ‘bring your daughter to work’ day actually involves?

It's a very structured event. We begin with an icebreaker and then we split the girls into teams to be ‘engineers’ building a tower with spaghetti and jellybeans, as high as they can. It's about working together, discussing ideas and collaborating. Then we have an activity where the girls might fly drones or navigate robots around an obstacle course using Scratch.

In the afternoon they use Python, so that is a lot more technical. We talk about trailblazing women in technology, like Ada Lovelace, Margaret Hopper… inspirational women that they might not have known about. Then we get them to use a discussion platform to talk about what's great about technology. Finally, we talk about the skills that they've learnt during the day and how that could apply to working in the job. Then, we wrap up and give the children some goody bags to take home. It's quite heavily structured but fast moving.

Do you ever have any pushback against the initiative?

Not for the first couple of years I would say, but more so this year. And I do get it. I've got a son and we do get the question, ‘why isn’t there something similar for boys?’ But no one can deny there’s an imbalance of genders working in tech and we need to redress that balance. In general though, our members are proud of the programme and are happy to volunteer their time.

CGI works in a business to business environment. Do you ever suggest ‘bring your daughter to work’ as an initiative your clients can adopt?

We haven't involved our clients so much in the ‘daughter to work’ but we are involving them in some of our STEM camps. The games that we do during the STEM camp are very similar to daughter to work, it's the spaghetti engineering game, for the older kids we might do the networking event where they can talk about different careers.

Some companies don't have their own community outreach programmes, so they’ve come along to our STEM camps to see how it all works. We’ve got a series of events in our London office, which is really convenient for a lot of clients and we hope to run many more joint events in the future.