Building a Network to support female Mentors and Ninjas
I’m Gemma and I’ve been a Robotics Mentor at the Silicon docks CoderDojo for about ten months now. Our Dojo is special in that girls outnumber boys on a ratio of about 60:40, so we’ve been asked to share a little bit about what we’ve learned along our journey. For me, the three most important factors for creating and growing a Dojo which is fun for all involved have been our network, environment and content.
In this blog I would like to talk about the importance of developing a network of passionate adults and ninjas around a Dojo.
There is no doubt in my mind that the reason we have retained such a high percentage of girls at our Dojo is because of our amazing mentors. At the Dock, we are extra lucky to have some awesome engineers working on site who are willing to give over a little bit of their time. 50% of our mentors are female and it makes such a difference to the girls that come along to our Dojo to interact with women who work in technology.
Being a role model sounds daunting, but sometimes it’s a simple as just showing up and being yourself. Kids are pretty genuine creatures and I think they deserve the same from us. DIY electronics and glitter are my hobbies and every fortnight I get to share that with a group of fantastic ninjas who jazz up their creations with a little glitter too, just to make me laugh.
So, you’ve never written a line of code, or looked after anyone’s child, or taught anyone anything ever. But something about CoderDojo is calling to you. Not all of our mentors are techie or experienced with working with children. As a team, we support each other and lean on one another from time to time. Being in the position to interact with and inspire young children and teenagers into STEM activities is one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. I can’t emphasise this enough to anyone who is even slightly considering coming along to a Dojo – GO FOR IT!
Collaboration (Best Friends)
We’ve found that pairing up girls at one end of the table is even more effective than splitting ninjas up by gender. Additionally, girls who come to our Dojo with a friend are a lot more likely to return; the same is true for our mentors, myself included. I was (reluctantly) talked into helping out by another mentor, Zara (thanks Zara!). Allow friends to work together and try to encourage collaboration amongst everyone. Although some ninjas need more time than others to open up to working with others.
It takes a village
At our Dojo, we have teams who take care of the content for each session and a team lead who heads up each one. I’m the team lead for Robotics and when I first set-up the stream I thought I had to do everything by myself. This was stressful and quickly lead to burn out. Over time, a small but dedicated team has formed with me. We prepare and share content with each other before each session. We’ve found that a little bit of structure combined with time for experimentation works best.
So how can you encourage more female mentors to join your Dojo, you ask? Well, it’s much the same as encouraging and supporting female ninjas:
- Ask your existing mentors and mentees to invite the women in their lives to come along.
- Find out your female mentors’ skills and interests and encourage them to use them when devising content for sessions.
- Spread responsibility for content across a team of people so they can support and help one another; no one person should be crucial or irreplaceable to the success of a session, that’s too much pressure!
This role model series post is part of the CoderDojo Girls Initiative, which aims to increase the global % of girls attending Dojos from 29% to at least 40% over the next three years. You can share your insights and tips on our forums here, or on our blog by emailing your story to firstname.lastname@example.org.