In my third year of teaching, I was spending my after school hours working at Arus, the social enterprise that I co-founded with three other Teach For Malaysia alumni of my cohort. It was an afterschool center that provides programming and coding classes through maker education for students from underprivileged backgrounds and high need schools. We were teaching our students how to apply the knowledge they learn in schools into software and hardware solutions. Despite having just set up, we were already working on getting our students to present at innovation exhibitions and entering competitions.
As one of the teachers who was in charge in getting my students to these events, I slowly realized that I was constantly with my boys. It was not because our center did not have girls and it was certainly not because my girls were not as capable as the boys. When I got the girls together to discuss this, they explained that the boys seemed more confident in representing the school and that the general perception was that boys were supposed to naturally be better at designing and building robots than them. This was the first time that my girls and I discussed the importance of equal representation, equal opportunities, and women’s role in the STEM field.
Around the same time, we received an invitation to enter a social challenge competition. Motivated by our conversation, the girls at Arus decided to enter the challenge. They formed a team to tackle the gender disparity they see around them through changing the mindsets of the girls in their community. At school they conducted a survey of 186 girls—none were interested in becoming an engineer. The majority of the girls they surveyed had never heard of coding and programming, but 70% were interested in joining an all-girls club. Girls in Engineering, Math & Science—or GEMS—an exclusive club just for girls was born.