That women are traditionally underrepresented in technology-related careers will surprise no one. It is something we’ve seen in our work, our research, and with our own children. In the 2015 ARS evaluation of STEM, Inc., a coding and entrepreneurship project designed for middle school students, only 32% of participants were girls and they were almost half as likely as boys to have any prior coding or robotics experience (35% versus 65%).
Moreover, a recent survey of over 5,700 middle school students found that boys agreed more with the statement they are good at solving computer problems. Boys are also more likely than girls to say they plan to study computers in college; they are more likely to create technology; and they demonstrate a more positive attitude toward computers and computer classes. Among our own middle and high school aged children, we note significantly more external encouragement toward coding and technology among boys than among girls, manifest in recruitment and participation in after school coding clubs and in AP Computer Science course participation. All of these factors contribute to the significant decline in young women’s pursuit of computer science degrees and the current lack of gender parity in the technology workforce.
Why should we work to reverse this trend? Here are two pretty compelling reasons:
Ensuring technical innovation: According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology’s Girls in IT report, there is abundant research showing that diversity improves problem solving, productivity, innovation, and ultimately, the bottom line. So why not ensure that future technology matches the populations it serves?
Reducing social inequalities: The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the creation of 1.4 million new jobs in computer science by 2020, yet the number of women pursuing careers in the field has continued to drop since the 80s. In fact, if current trends continue, women will be equipped to fill less than 30% of these jobs. Increasing girls’ participation in computing is important for promoting equity and ensuring that girls are able to take advantage of the opportunities these jobs make possible.
Generating early interest, developing networking and mentoring opportunities, valuing the technical contributions of women and girls, and providing access to the technical learning that is often lacking in high school environments, especially for girls, can significantly contribute to progress if done successfully at scale. That’s work we think is worth pursuing, and why we’re so pleased to be engaged by ChickTech.org for evaluation design and reporting.