The numbers are grim. Few girls are enrolled in computer science classes in high school. By college, female students constitute less than 12 percent of graduating computer science majors. In return, women are attempting to crack the code in order to inspire more young girls and close the gender gap in the tech industry.
“In contemporary western culture, men are assumed to make the machines and if culturally appropriate, women may use them,” wrote Melanie Stewart Millar in her book Cracking the Gender Code: Who Rules the Wired World? in 1999 when Internet culture was in its nascent stages. It is this narrative, she warned, that has determined who has and will work in the field of technology as it advances. Fourteen years later, women make up half of the U.S. workforce, but hold just 24 percent of the jobs in technical or computing fields. A survey conducted by Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou, using data from 192 tech companies, found that on average females made up 15 percent of tech industry employees.
Those facts are even more unsettling when considering that girls do better than boys in school in all subjects including math and science, according to a 2014 analysis by the American Psychological Association. The common wisdom that girls start to ‘dumb down’ in middle school is nonsense; rather their advantage in math and science starts to show up at that age. So what happens to that passion for science and math? More importantly, why are statistics stacked against women’s involvement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)? The main reason is difficult to quantify but that hasn’t stopped women in STEM fields from advocating for change.
Organizations, many spearheaded by women, are attempting to engage girls and women to enter and stay in STEM and are dedicated to supporting them along the way. Because even if women do make it in the biz, they’re not staying long. According to a study by the Center for Work-Life Policy, 74 percent of women in technology report “loving their work,” yet abandon their careers at a jaw-dropping rate: 56 percent within the first 10 years, compared to 17 percent of men. Why would a woman at a mid-level range of her field choose to leave? Alaina Percival, CEO of Women Who Code, a global nonprofit focused on inspiring women to excel in technology careers, says it’s hard to pin down.
“Imagine you’re on a team of 30 engineers and two of you are women. It’s the little things that happen each day. None of them are really offensive, none of them are anything that you can complain about, but it excludes you. It makes you think ‘I don’t belong here,’” Percival says. “At a Women Who Code event, you can be surrounded by 30 smart women interested in tech and say ‘I do belong here.’”
Women Who Code is one of many role models striving to diversify these fields. Some of the bigger dogs in the fight include the Anita Borg Institute, whose mission is to connect women and technology. The institute produces an annual summit The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, which attracts nearly 5,000 attendees from 53 countries and over 350 companies. The 2015 conference will be held in Houston, Texas, October 14-16. Around since 1989, Women in Technology International reaches out to women trying to make an imprint in technology sectors by providing them with access and support from other professional women already established in the field.
Resources for Adults
helps adult women learn programming and organizes women-centric hackathons like Neo Hack
boot camp for helping adult women get programmer jobs
community blog for women in tech, which hosts hackathons and other events
a celebration of women in computing and hosts the largest gathering of women in tech in the world
a nonprofit whose mission is to empower women to become software developers
Resources for Girls
a full-fledged community that inspires women to empower computer science
free programming clubs for young kids