Did you know that in middle school, 74 percent of girls express interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), but when choosing a college major, just 0.4 percent of high school girls select computer science? The STEM community is missing out on a huge proportion of our nation's great technical minds!
Fortunately, there's an organization dedicated to changing that. Emily Reid, the curriculum director of Girls Who Code, was kind enough to share her insights on technology, women in STEM, and the future.
The importance of closing the gender gap
Reid said that by 2020, we'll have 1.4 million jobs in the United States requiring computer science degrees, yet we're currently on track to fill just 400,000 of those jobs. This translates into 1 million computer science jobs up for grabs. Of those 1.4 million job openings, at this rate, only 3 percent will be filled by women.
"There is a huge opportunity both for women and for the technical economy," Reid said. "We don't want our startups and founders to be missing out on 40 to 50 percent of the great technical minds. This is a really important problem for us nationally, and it's also a great opportunity for girls and women to be part of — to have a huge influence on — technology, and to provide that economic opportunity for themselves and their families."
Reid explained that boys and girls both express an interest in STEM fields throughout childhood, but right around the beginning of middle school, interest among 13- to 15-year-old girls falls dramatically. This is the target age group for Girls Who Code.
Why computer science is "awesome"
"What we're trying to do is get computer science into the hands of those girls and show them why it's such an exciting, creative field," Reid said. "There are a lot of unfortunate stereotypes and misconceptions about what being a computer scientist is.
"We get girls interested in computer science by showing them why it's awesome, why it's something that they can be creative with, and that they can use it to solve problems that they're interested in. We find that our girls, once they discover computer science and fall in love with it, start seeing it as a way to solve problems in their communities."
Reid shared two examples of exactly how girls have used computer science to solve problems they care about: Pocket Poll and Tampon Run.
Some Girls Who Code students last year were troubled by the low turnout for local elections in their community, despite the numerous important issues on the ballot. The girls created a mobile app called Pocket Poll that alerts users of upcoming local elections, presents relevant details, and includes unbiased information on all the candidates.
Two Girls Who Code students from last year's New York summer immersion program created a game called Tampon Run. "The game is intended to really bring awareness to the fact that we're so desensitized to violence and guns in gaming today, and that's something that we don't blink an eye at. Yet there is still a stigma for young girls to talk about menstruation. Isn't it an issue that this is something that's so normal and happens to 50 percent of the population, but it's still taboo to talk about? They created a really fun game with a message that has had a really important social impact," she said.
"One of the important things those students said they found was, 'I never would have created this game if I wasn't in a Girls Who Code classroom — if I didn't have this safe environment where I could bring up this idea and be supported by my classmates.'"
Girls Who Code success stories
One of Reid's favorite success stories involves a first generation college student from Miami who came to Girls Who Code with no experience in computer science and minimal experience with computers. Though the program was challenging for her, she built an amazing final project and learned a lot over the summer. She recently received a scholarship to attend her state university, where she's planning to study computer science.
"We have a number of stories like that where we have students who are first generation, and they're getting scholarships and opportunities to attend college because they're studying computer science," Reid said. "Those universities are looking for girls like ours to come and to work on that."
Ninety percent of Girls Who Code immersion program attendees go on to major or minor in computer science.
You can't be what you can't see
There's more to the Girls Who Code story than bits and bytes. One of the most important elements of the program involves role models and mentoring.
"We say that you can't be what you can't see," Reid explained. "So, we bring in women from different areas of computer science: maybe a computational biology researcher, a software developer from Google, or a technical project manager.
"They all have interesting backgrounds and stories, and the girls can look at them and identify with them and say, 'Wow, there was a part of her story that I really identified with that reminded me of my own story.' They can look at that person and say, 'I can do what she's doing.' The girls see other women like them who are out there doing this, and once they see that, it's really powerful."
Girls Who Code has built an impressive list of partnerships. Some of its partners include Adobe Foundation, Cover Girl, AT&T, General Electric, Twitter, Google.org, Microsoft, and News Corp, among others.
"We have been blessed with so much support from our partners," Reid said. "Our partners host girls in their technology companies for the summer. The girls are coming in and out, they get to meet those engineers, they get to see them working day to day.
"We've also had partners who host field trips for us so the girls can come see their technology and meet their employees. They'll offer speakers or workshops to us. So if a company has a really interesting API, they can host a workshop for our girls and teach them how to use their API."
How you can get involved
There are many ways to get involved with Girls Who Code. Organizations can become sponsors and individuals can support Girls Who Code by donating. If you're the hands-on type, you could even host a club or become an instructor.
"Anyone — for example, a teacher at a high school or a librarian — could apply to host a Girls Who Code club, and they don't need to have technical experience to do that," Reid said.
"If you do have a technical background, you can apply to be an instructor at one of our clubs, and you can also apply to teach a summer immersion program if you're available during the summer."
How girls can get involved
- Join (or start) a local Girls Who Code club
- Apply for the seven-week summer immersion program
- Download the free Girls Who Code curriculum
The butterfly effect
Girls Who Code aims to expose 10,000 girls to computer science this year alone through its summer immersion programs and Girls Who Code clubs — and that has a butterfly effect.
"Some of the girls who leave our summer immersion program will start a Girls Who Code club or teach their siblings how to code," she said. "Once you teach one girl to code, she may go and teach five more."
There's a rapidly growing opportunity for girls and women with STEM skills in the modern business landscape, and Girls Who Code is doing great work to help provide the support, community, materials, and mentorship they need to change the world. The best part is, you can help them achieve their mission in so many ways.
If you haven't donated your Bonusly earnings to Girls Who Code yet, today is a great day to start!