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Girls’ Day in 2020: How did the coronavirus pandemic affect one of the most important annual events of CSI-COP Partner ’Association of Hungarian Women in Science’?

Girls’ Day is an international civic initiative aimed at increasing the proportion of girls in STEM and ICT education and, as a consequence, their proportion in technology, science, engineering and ICT careers in the medium and long term. The career guidance program wishes to counteract the impact of limiting gender stereotypes by presenting STEM fields as feasible and attractive career choices for high school and elementary school girls. In order to reach these aims, an interactive open day is held each year on the fourth Thursday of April in several countries around the world. The event is organised exclusively for girls with the involvement of companies, research institutes and educational institutions. Girls’ Day is usually funded by corporate contributions and grant funds, and run by a local NGO dedicated to the topic in each country.

Being the only Hungarian NGO aiming to ensure equal opportunities for women in STEM and ICT, the Association of Hungarian Women in Science (NaTE) undertook the development and implementation of the Hungarian version of Girls’ Day. The event was first organised by NaTE in 2012, so we will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year. In each of the last few years, 60-80 host institutions have received more than 2,000 participants on average, and since 2012, a total of more than 13,500 girls have attended the event.

The implementation has been constantly evolving, and we have been shaping the program based on feedback from participants and host institutions, collected by post-event questionnaire surveys every year. Compared to earlier years, feedback was perhaps even more important to us last year, as in 2020 the coronavirus situation urged us to change the whole format of Girls’ Day. The event was moved to the fall semester and fully implemented online on the 1st October. This was a huge challenge, since on-site presence is the basic concept and live experience is one of the main values of Girls’ Day.

Despite the difficulties, 36 Hungarian host institutions took on the online challenge and 722 girls chose to virtually attend the event amid the COVID-19 pandemic. On-site programs that characterised Girls’ Day in previous years, such as interactive open days at companies, workshop/laboratory visits and face-to-face discussions with the employees of research institutes were replaced by online games and competitions, video messages and conversations with the host institutions’ employees in chat-rooms.

Based on the questionnaires completed by the participants and on our own experiences as organisers, we came to the following conclusions regarding the Girls’ Day held in virtual format:

  • On the one hand, the online format makes it possible for girls to apply from anywhere in the country without any physical restrictions (although the lack of digital access might be a problem in some areas).
  • On the other hand, the virtual format works as a filter: the girls who attend the online event are primarily those who have a more serious interest in STEM careers in the first place.
  • Instead of the lack of enthusiasm on the girls’ part, the lower participation in 2020 was rather the consequence of the fact that many of their teachers did not believe in the success of the format, therefore they failed to encourage students to take part. This means that there is a need for a targeted campaign among educators to convince them that the online format works.
  • The host institutions found the online format much more challenging than the participating girls did.
  • The speakers from host institutions talked about complex scientific topics in a relatable and passionate way. Their directness and dedication had a big impact on the children. This suggests that conveying the messages of the program can be just as successful online as it usually is face-to-face and the persuasive power of role models is not compromised by the virtual format.
  • Despite all uncertainties, the event managed to achieve the targeted impact among the participants.

Unfortunately, we do not yet know whether it will be possible for girls to attend the event in person this year or not. In any case, until we see more clearly what the future holds, we are working on the further adaptation of the program communication to the online format, building on our results from 2020.

For further information regarding Girls’ Day and other programs run by NaTE, please visit our website: https://bit.ly/2RiOTXd

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Posted by Dorottya Rigler

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