Closing the gender gap: Girls who code

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As a long time IBMer and a girl who used to code, I have been transfixed – and reawakened – to the importance of gender diversity in the tech industry. This was my “AHA!” moment at InterConnect 2017. I graduated in 1982 with a Computer Science degree from Georgia Tech. Although it seemed like I was a pioneer (I was one of only a few females in my CS classes), I wasn’t alone. In fact, 37% of CS majors in the 1980s were female. And I was absolutely certain that the gap between males and females in this field would close, but I was wrong. Now, less than 18% of CS majors are females and only 22% of the computing workforce are women. How can this be?

You cannot be what you cannot see

According to Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code and Author, Girls Who Code, this gender gap exists largely because of culture:

  • Computer programmers are depicted mostly as nerdy boys (and what girl wants to be that?)
  • Girls are often told they are not good at math and science (we give boys legos and computer kits, we give girls dolls)
  • We raise girls to be perfect, but we raise boys to be brave.

As a result, girls simply don’t see themselves as coders. And you cannot be what you cannot see.

In 2012, Reshma Saujani thought that she could change this – and she founded Girls Who Code with the mission of correcting the gender imbalance in the tech industry. Through Summer Immersion Programs, school clubs, networking and mentorships, Girls Who Code has reached nearly 40,000 young girls so far, 90% of have declared or intend to declare a major or minor in Computer Science.  And perhaps just as importantly, Reshma and Girls Who Code have sparked a national conversation about increasing the number of women in tech.

It’s important to get more girls coding

By 2020, there will be 1.4 million jobs available in computing related fields. US graduates are on track to fill 29% of those jobs. Women are on track to fill just 3%. From a sheer supply and demand consideration, we will need women to help fill that gap. Companies like IBM are partnering with Girls Who Code to help build the pipeline of computer programmers and data scientists that will fill those jobs and close that gap.  And IBM is working with Girls Who Code on a cognitive curriculum that can be offered to young girls so that they can continue their learning beyond summer programs and clubs.

But it doesn’t stop at that. Companies need to be committed to women so that they are able to keep the talent that they have recruited. Because, let’s face it, girls who code are going to be in high demand.

The gender gap is solvable

Girls Who Code has accomplished some amazing things in a very short amount of time. They’ve grown from 20 girls in a single program in New York to 40,000 girls in 50 states in less than 5 years! And girls who are exposed to CS in high school are more likely to consider and choose CS as a degree. So, they’re not only trying to close the gender gap, they’re actually doing it.

But the responsibility to close the gender gap lays with each and every one of us. Give girls opportunities. Through your example, show them that they can do anything. And rid girls of this “perfection or bust” mindset. After all, coding is trial and error. By teaching girls to code, we not only teach them that it’s o.k. to try things over and over, we teach them to take risks, and we teach them to be brave.

Simply put, girls who code are awesome

Don’t take my word for it.  Please take the time to watch Reshma’s Innovation Talk at InterConnect 2017.  You will be awakened, you will be transfixed and you will be inspired to join the movement. I know I was.

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