Girls and Tech – Houston We Have A Problem

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on May 5th, 2017.

Last week I wrote about my incredible experience at the 2017 Kairos Global Summit, an event that brought together seasoned professionals with emerging entrepreneurs. I was invited to present a problem to these up and coming entrepreneurs that needs a solution, and the problem I chose was the gender gap in the technology industry today. With over 532,000 currently unfilled tech jobs in the United States alone, this is an important issue for many reasons, but I asked this question specifically because I wanted these young entrepreneurs to think about the talent they will require to bring their ideas to fruition, and how this lack of skilled workers could seriously impede their progress and innovation. This isn’t just a “women’s issue”. The lack of skilled technology workers in this country is estimated to rise to nearly two million unfilled jobs by 2020, a scenario that could have dire consequences for the economy, and constitute a huge hit to our potential GDP. Given how grossly underrepresented women are in this industry, an easy solution would be to simply recruit more women, but like most things in life, it’s not that easy.

In looking at the problem of women in tech, there are two main factors behind this phenomenon: 1) the pipeline issue, and 2) the brain drain once women have begun their careers. Today, I want to talk about the pipeline, and how young girls are systematically discouraged from pursuing careers in STEM. To work in certain areas of technology, a person needs to be educated with a specific skill set, and in looking at the statistics, the educational systems in the United States are failing our girls from a very young age.

According to Girls Who Code, 66% of girls aged 6-12 are interested in taking computer science classes. That’s two thirds of our young girls who are interested in learning about technology. Sadly, despite 9 out 10 parents wanting their kids to learn computer science, only 1 in 4 schools offer these courses, and at the high school level these numbers are even worse. In 2015, just over 4,300 schools offered the AP Computer Science course out of the approximately 42,000 high schools in the US, and of the nearly 49,000 students taking the exam in 2015, only 22% were girls.

By the time girls leave high school and become college freshmen, the number of them interested in taking computer science courses has now dropped from 66% to just 4%. Of the two million unfilled jobs expected by 2020, approximately 1.4 million of them will require computing skills, and given the numbers above, it’s hardly a surprise that women are expected to fill only 3% of those jobs. 3%! I hope that’s a number that will make people sit up and take notice, because we simply can’t afford to ignore this issue any longer. The pervasiveness of technology and the need for workers with technological skills will only increase in the years to come, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to encourage young people to pursue these careers. ALL young people.

Clearly young girls are being left behind in this department, and with only 18% of today’s computer science graduates being women, a radical intervention is needed to steer more young women down this path. Thankfully, there are numerous organizations out there who are doing just that. I encourage everyone, especially those with daughters, to check out these programs and seriously consider how they can benefit the young girls in your life. Most of these are non-profit organizations so your philanthropic support is also much needed. I not have personal experience with the programs below, but they look amazing.

Starting girls on a path to computer science has to start early, so if you’re looking for programs that cater to young girls, please check out Girls Who Code.

Girls Who Code – Founded in 2012, Girls Who Code aims to close the gender gap in technology by encouraging young girls to pursue a career in computing. Girls Who Code offers club programs for girls in 6th through 12th grade, as well as summer programs for girls in 10th and 11th grade that offer valuable exposure to the possibilities of a career in tech. The founder of this organization, Reshma Saujani, is coming to Utah in just a few weeks and I am so looking forward to sitting down with her to discuss this issue in more depth. From what I hear, this woman is an absolute rock star!

Middle School is where girls’ interest in STEM dramatically drops off, so to keep young girls interested, please look into these incredible programs.

ProjectCSGIRLS – ProjectCSGIRLS is a nonprofit organization aimed to cultivate a love for technology and computer science in girls and encourage them to pursue their interests and careers in these fields. This program believes that nurturing an interest in science, math, and technology during the critical middle school period will help them to better see themselves as the future leaders of tomorrow. ProjectCSGirls aims to do this through a unique idea – the nation’s largest computer science competition for middle school girls. It is run by high school and college students from around the country who are incredibly passionate about computer science and technology.

Tech Trek – Girls find their passion for high-tech careers at AAUW’s Tech Trek camps. Through hands-on problem solving and encounters with women role models in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), Tech Trek helps girls see their futures while having nonstop fun. Since 1998, AAUW has helped change girls’ lives through Tech Trek, an experiential summer camp backed by research and designed to make STEM exciting and accessible to girls in middle school — the age when research shows girls’ participation in these fields drops. For many girls, the weeklong camp sparks their curiosity and places them on a path toward success.

Technovation – Technovation offers girls around the world the opportunity to learn the necessary skills to become tech entrepreneurs and leaders. Girls ages 10 to 18 learn to identify a problem in their community and create a mobile app solution to address that problem, and then learn how to communicate these ideas and translate them into a fully launched business.

Finally, once a young girl is firmly on the path towards a career in computer sciences, she will need a lot of support, encouragement, and mentorship along the way. For incredible resources in this department, look no further than these wonderful programs.

NASA Girls – NASA Girls is a virtual mentoring program using commercially available video chat programs to pair NASA mentors with young students anywhere in the country. NASA Girls gives young students the opportunity to interact and learn from real engineers, scientists, and technologists. There are so many different fields and NASA wants to show you how they all contribute to science, technology, engineering, and math.

TechGirls – TechGirls is an international summer exchange program designed to empower and inspire young girls from the Middle East and North Africa to pursue careers in science and technology. The centerpiece of the program is a weeklong technology camp that provides participants with an in-depth examination of technology-related topics, such as Java C++ programming, and engages them in 45+ hours of hands-on instruction. The camp is complemented by additional activities such as site visits to technology companies, leadership clinics, community service opportunities, job shadowing, and cultural events. As part of program follow-on, the TechGirls implement at least one peer training program or service project within their schools and/or communities.

For more information about women in technology, please refer to my Top 400 Reports on Women and Girls to view numerous studies in this area. And please continue to support the girls in your life who show an interest in STEM careers. The strength of our economy depends on them.

Please continue to share your ideas on this subject in the comment section.

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