By: Gigi Grimes
Like many of the Own It Summit attendees, I left Gaston feeling empowered and hopeful for the women of tomorrow. But there was one thing that stuck with me the most. As the women in media, sports, and politics spoke about how women were emerging as the new leaders in these fields, the women in STEM pleaded the audience to consider their careers. In the world of STEM, Science Technology Engineering in Mathematics, women are not emerging as leaders, in fact, they are becoming even more of a minority.
In the field of computer science—one of the most important and fastest growing fields—women hold just 26% of positions. This number is down from 1990, when women held 35% of computing jobs. The numbers are even worse for college students where just 15% of computer science majors are women. When looking back historically, these numbers seem almost shocking. Throughout history women have actually dominated the computing field. Ada Lovelace, daughter of the famous poet George Lord Byron, is credited with being the first person to ever write code. Grace Hopper, an American computer scientist and United States Navy Rear Admiral, was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer in 1944 and developed the first high-level programming languages. She is often referred to as “Amazing Grace” for her outstanding accomplishments.
So what happened to women today? Why are so many steering away from computing and mathematics occupations? One of the Own It Summit Breakout Speakers, Robin Hauser Reynolds, attempts to answer these questions in her documentary CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap. In her film, Reynolds explores the complex set of social and professional issues that are pushing women out of this field. One of the main catalysts being the “brogrammers” culture that emerged in the 1980s. During this time, video games became more targeted at boys and popular culture began depicting programmers as boys who hacked into different websites and games. This gender bias has discouraged women from pursuing computer programming and is visible in the staggering statistics of women in tech in Silicon Valley today.
To change this, CODE argues that coding and computer science courses should be taught in all primary and secondary schools. This combats the informal education that boys receive in programming through the games targeted at them and allows girls to gain a sustainable, competitive interest in the field early on. Not only is this necessary for the future of tech in America (it’s estimated that by 2020 there will be 1 million unfilled computing jobs), but also for the success of organizations in the US. Having employees with a diverse set of opinions, beliefs, and backgrounds is necessary for any firm to succeed and innovate.
The good news is that with so much access to technology today, we have more access than ever to coding education. You can help break the cycle and make coding a more inclusive, diverse field by visiting these websites, and maybe learning a new (computer) language on your own!