Superbots Industry Immersion Day
A bespoke co-designed program for girls to design a voicebot that is relevant and meaningful for Gen Z users.
Despite decades of initiatives and concerted efforts from educators and the technology industry, girls and women remain persistently underrepresented in technology-related disciplines and careers. Research confirms that girls typically decide whether or not to pursue IT and computer science in their early high school years, as a result of their exposure to stereotypes, peer pressure, parental and teacher influences, and other cultural and structural factors. This ongoing challenge brought together a unique combination of partners to conceive of and deliver the Superbots program for Year 7-9 girls. The partners all share a passion to bust the myths and stereotypes about who ‘does’ IT, and what IT looks like as part of modern skills in this fast-paced industry. In this innovative partnership, Monash Tech School, the Faculty of IT, and the Women in Voice ANZ Chapter came together to co-design an Industry Immersion program that invites girls to design and create their own voicebot personality.
The Superbots program was first conceived out of an informal but passionate discussion between MTS and Faculty of IT Associate Professor Yolande Strengers regarding the importance of generating meaningful, relevant and engaging activities for girls at an earlier stage of their secondary school journey. Capturing the hearts and minds of girls before they make important subject selections, ensures girls keep their options and their focus open to new and previously unexplored study and career opportunities.
The content of the Superbots program was informed by Yolande’s research (with Dr Jenny Kennedy from RMIT University) on the gendered design and implications of voice-activated AI, such as digital voice assistants. Yolande and Jenny’s research identified that gendered stereotypes embedded into the personalities of emerging AI are perpetuating outdated stereotypes about women, and generating potentially damaging societal effects. One of the recommendations from the research was to bring the social sciences and advanced technology disciplines closer together, to ensure that deep understanding of the social consequences of AI are considered from the outset of the design process. This in turn is anticipated to have the additional positive effect of encouraging more women into technology disciplines, by busting persistent ‘geek’ and ‘math genius’ stereotypes in computing. The partnership was strengthened by the inclusion of industry leaders from the Women in Voice ANZ chapter, who helped shape the content of the program and provided practical guidance and acted as accessible role models and mentors for the girls who participated.
The partnership demonstrates and exposes groups to one of the expanding and exciting career pathways available to girls, women and people of all genders. Conversational design and the voicetech industry is one of the fastest growing career paths in IT, and an area which is uniquely suited to candidates with a combination of ‘technology’ and ‘human’ skills. Additionally, Bachelor double degree programs, such as Monash University’s double degree in IT and Arts, are increasingly desired by employers as industry best-practice, and typically have a higher representation of women than IT-only degrees.