Connecting Girls to Computing

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Three ways to engage women and girls in computer science

“Coding is the language of the future and every girl should learn it,” says Reshma Saujani, Founder of Girls Who Code. Like a growing number of employers, Saujani recognizes the need for coding and computing knowledge not just in computer and technology sectors, but also in a growing number of industries who use it to deliver innovative products and services. An increased interest in software, cloud computing, and the collection and storage of electronic data also add to this demand.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the availability of computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations, adding about 488,500 new jobs from 2014 to 2024. These occupations, which range from network architects, programmers, database administrators, and software and web developers, require anywhere from a two- to four-year degree and can make upwards of $100,000 per year. Yet, with more than 50% of available STEM positions in computer science fields by 2018, it is concerning that the number of women who hold computer science-related degrees at the bachelor’s level has declined by 10% from 1995 to 2014 (National Science Foundation), equipping women to fill only 3% of projected positions.

Getting more women and girls into computer science fields requires a concerted effort to ensure expanded access and opportunities. Organizations like Girls Who Code, Code.org, and Black Girls Code are blazing the trail by equipping teachers and volunteers to bring computer science to their classrooms. Collaborating with these organizations, or starting similar initiatives within your community can help bring increased awareness and strengthen the cradle-to-career pipeline. Here are a few steps you can take in 2018 to connect to the cause:

  1. Mentoring. Equipping girls with role models is essential to helping girls see what career possibilities are available to them, and a clear, actionable path to get there, as high-paying STEM jobs can be the way out of poverty for underrepresented youth, and seeing and interacting with even one example of someone who understands their situation and still succeeded can inspire them to do the same.
  2. Advocacy. Because computer science is not a core academic subject in federal education policy, few schools to offer courses on the subject. Thus, connecting with local and state boards of education, contacting your local legislators, and sitting in on public board and Parent Teacher Association meetings is key to advocating to make coding a priority in public school education.
  3. Engagement. A vital component of addressing disproportionalities is preparing students with the skills that employers need sooner. Engaging students as early as elementary school in afterschool and summer programming can be a great way to spark interest and reinforce learning by providing opportunities such as internships, industry tours, and job shadowing that allow youth to apply classroom content to real-world experiences (e.g. home, career, community, society).

Ashlie James supports nonprofit, education, and faith-based leaders in creating thriving communities with strategic grant writing, consulting, and communication services. She is also the founder of Atlanta GLOW, a mentoring program for low-income women and girls, ages 14-25. For more information, visit www.ashliekjames.org and www.atlantaglow.org.

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