Interview: Getting girls excited about technology with Juliane Orth and Gesche Neusel

“Technology journalism for everyone” is the motto of the research project “Electrical engineering instead of BibisBeautyPalace“. The project was carried out at the Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences under the direction of Prof. Dr. Susanne Keil performed. We have already reported on the project and the resulting guidelines here on the zdi portal.

In the interview we have with Gesche Neusel from the university's equal opportunities office and Juliane Orth, research associate in the research project and public relations officer, talked about how girls can get excited about technology and technology journalism. Personal experiences in the MINT area also came into play and the importance of dealing openly with mistakes.

Click here for the blog post about the final event of the research project:

The photo shows Gesche Neusel, who was able to get girls interested in technology in the research project “Electrical engineering instead of BibisBeautyPalace”.

Gesche Neusel from the Equal Opportunities Office at the Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences.

The photo shows Juliane Orth, who was able to get girls interested in technology in the research project “Electrical engineering instead of BibisBeautyPalace”.
© Juri Coastmacher

Juliane Orth, doctoral student, public relations and marketing consultant in the Department of Engineering and Communication (IWK) and research assistant in the Technology – Gender – Journalism project

You can also find the interview on our YouTube channel @zdi.NRW Speaking of dealing openly with mistakes: Unfortunately, we made a mistake when recording the interview, which is why Juliane Orth can only be seen with a photo. © of the photo by Juliane Orth: Juri Coastmacher.


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“I didn’t trust myself with technology”

Gwendolyn Paul: Gesche, I know that you are not just an employee of the Equal Opportunities Office at Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences. You are also a biologist and therefore a “real” MINT person. How was your path there? Were there detours or was the path more straight?

Gesche Neusel: My path was pretty straight forward. I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a behavioral biologist and that's what I am now. At the time, however, I imagined that I would now live in solitude in Canada and research wild wolves. It wasn't necessarily straight forward in the sense that I got my Abitur through the second educational opportunity. I didn't get the qualification straight away at secondary school. But it was clear to me that you had to study to become a biologist. I initially trained as a biological-technical assistant and also completed my Abitur.

The screenshot shows (from left to right): Gesche Neusel, Gwendolyn Paul and Juliane Orth.
© Photos by Juliane Orth: Juri Coastmacher.

Gwendolyn Paul: And how about you, Juliane? You're not a classic MINT person, but your reference comes from technology journalism, right?

Juliane Orth: Exactly. For me, the path to studying was pretty straight forward. I've always been interested in technology, but didn't think I could pursue a technical degree. And then I discovered this great “Technology Journalism” course at the Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences and found it very interesting.

I thought to myself that I would somehow manage communication. From my bachelor's degree, I stuck with the university during my master's degree and was able to take part in my first research project straight away. That was “Electrical Engineering instead of BibisBeautyPalace”.

Arouse enthusiasm for technology with video shoots

Gwendolyn Paul: Can you briefly introduce this research project? What is the approach behind it and what were the most important findings?

Juliane Orth: The project took place under the leadership of Prof. Dr. Susanne Keil. We started with a preliminary study. In group discussions with students at schools, we looked at what makes technology and technology reporting interesting for girls. Which channels do they use to get information? What is important to you? Our aim was not to get girls interested in technology who have no interest in it at all. But rather to strengthen girls in their (existing) interests and, in the long term, to achieve a certain level of self-understanding in dealing with technology. I think I am a good example of the target group: I have always had an interest in technology and was also fascinated by my circle of male friends who liked to work on cars. But I never believed it myself. If I had had a YouTube channel or an Instagram presence back then that pushed and supported me, then my path might have been different and I would have taken up a technical course of study. That was our basic idea.

Based on the group discussions, we then decided on YouTube as a channel, took a closer look at this medium and finally put the girls themselves in front of the camera. They were supposed to choose a technology topic themselves and this is how it was linked to Gesche and the holiday courses run by the Equal Opportunities Office, in which the girls could produce their videos. Gesche then looked after them on the technical side and brought the equipment and we from the research project supported the girls on the media side.

The photo shows all seven participants in the panel discussion sitting in armchairs in a semicircle. Kerstin Helmerdig has the microphone and speaks.
Panel discussion as part of the presentation of the research results of the project “Electrical engineering instead of BibisBeautyPalace” © Martin J. Schulz

“The fish has to like the bait and not the angler”

Gwendolyn Paul: What was the feedback from the girls? Have you noticed a change in the participants, in the sense that initial skepticism turns into self-confidence?

Juliane Orth: There have definitely been such developments. But it has to be said that there were big differences between the girls. The girls who consciously sign up for a technology course are often more self-confident. However, there were also girls in our courses who would not have enrolled in a purely technical setting and some of whom did not have the confidence to use technology or believed that they were not interested in technology. Who were only there because they wanted to make a YouTube video or because they like to discuss. At the end of the course, these girls made statements like: “I didn’t know that photography or camera technology was also technology! Then I understand a lot more than I thought! “. I think this experience was a gain in experience for the girls and a strengthening of their technical self-confidence.

Gesche Neusel: The fish must like the bait and not the angler. It's often the case that you get the girls into the technology courses through other topics, like YouTube or podcasts. Then you can show them how big the technical part is or you can deal with technical topics and achieve exactly the effect that Juliane described: The girls notice that they are much more competent than they previously gave themselves credit for.

Technology is a topic that many more people would have the confidence to tackle if talent wasn't so highly valued. “Technological talent” is an established term. Many people then think either they can do something or they can't do something, instead of combining it with learning and practice. You have to break this false stereotype that you can program straight away or immediately know where to put which cable. It's more about practice, routine and engaging with something.

Positive error culture instead of talent clichés

Gwendolyn Paul: In your opinion, what are the most important factors for girls to gain access to technology?

Gesche Neusel: As just mentioned, the image of technology must be changed. You have to make the communicative side and the teamwork aspects, the interdisciplinary aspects, more clear. Because all of this is inherent in technology, as well as various problem-solving strategies or creative work. Because no one who is uncreative will get far in the STEM field. If you can show all of this, then you can also get girls excited about technology.

Juliane Orth: I believe that dealing with mistakes openly and positively is very important. It is important to show that you can make mistakes when using technology - but also how to avoid or solve them next time. Dealing with errors was also very important to the project participants, and they wanted to show that in their videos.

Gesche Neusel: As women, we already know that if we make mistakes in technical matters, then we are serving a cliché. This can be very unpleasant when people say: “The reason she can’t do that is because she’s a woman.” This makes you even more tense and more prone to making mistakes instead of remaining calm. But if - with boys and girls alike - you say: "Oops, something went wrong" and show the correction, i.e. deal openly with mistakes made, then this also breaks down this cliché of talent.

Gwendolyn Paul: Exactly, because mistakes happen, regardless of gender.

Gesche Neusel: In the world of social media it is even more difficult because there you usually only see the best performance in a short period of time.

Women in technology professions are an asset to society

Gwendolyn Paul: And you don't even have the opportunity to look beyond the perfect, exactly. Is there another message you would like to give to young women and girls?

Pupils at the zdi girls camp
Students at the zdi Girls Camp 2022, © zdi.NRW

Gesche Neusel: Girls often underestimate how important it is for society that they are present. Due to the topic of artificial intelligence, the topic of the gender data gap is also on the table today. Who trains the AIs? Who forms the new realities? These are often just men. This is harmful because it creates the image that the “norm person” is the man. That's why it's important that we encourage girls to bring in their own perspective. This brings something to society and this point is also important to the girls. The girls also miss out on great jobs with good salaries. So it's definitely worth taking a closer look at the technology area.

Juliane Orth: Absolutely perfectly put, I have nothing to add.

Outlook for the zdi girls camp 2023

Gwendolyn Paul: Finally, I would like to point out this zdi girls camp which will take place on October 26th in Scholte-Stukenbrock Castle and which we will of course also report on here on the zdi portal. You two will give a lecture there. Would you like to give a little preview of what awaits us? And what reactions would you like to see from the girls present?

Gesche Neusel: A teaser would be what I just said: We want to show how important it is for society and for themselves that we get girls interested in technology. In response, I would hope that a fighting spirit would be awakened and that they would become courageous.

Juliane Orth: I also have no problem with criticism. During the group discussions in the preliminary study, it was often the case that the girls were indignant and said: “We can do it! Girls aren't stupid! “. When you then question what motivates them to make such statements and what feelings are triggered, the most exciting discussions arise. I am absolutely open to such strong reactions.

Gwendolyn Paul: Then I'm looking forward to a lecture that will hopefully trigger a strong reaction! Thank you for the interview.

Here you can find the follow-up report on the zdi girls camp 2022:

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