Encouraging Girls to Enter Computer Science

Encouraging Girls to Enter Computer Science

Women comprise 51% of the U.S. population and 46% of the U.S. workforce. And although more women than ever are pursuing math, science, and engineering degrees and have made great progress closing the gender gap in those fields generally, there is still a huge—and actually growing—disparity between men and women in computer science.

According to Code.org and the National Center for Women & Information Technology:

  1. Less than 2.4% of college students graduate with a computer science degree
  2. Women hold 57% of all bachelor’s degrees but only 14% of computer science degrees
  3. Only 25% of U.S. computing jobs are held by women.
  4. 15% of AP Computer Science exams are taken by girls.

The numbers specific to women of color are even more dismal, with only 4% of the computing workforce being Asian women, 3% African-American women, and 1% Hispanic women.

With women constituting more than half the U.S. population, and the number of computer science jobs expected to increase at double the rate of all other jobs this decade, bridging the gender divide in this area is not just a moral imperative but an economic one.

How Did This Happen?
There are widespread studies about the effects of gender stereotypes, the “princess” culture debate, and the “boys are good at math, girls are good at English” myth. For a great article on theories about why girls traditionally have shied away from computer science, see Mike Cassidy. “Can Early Computer Science Education Boost Number of Women in Tech?” San Jose Mercury News.

What Can Be Done to Change It?
Significant and broad-sweeping cultural and educational changes need to be made to change the tide. But there are a few fundamental steps that can be taken right now to give young girls today a greater chance of becoming leaders in computer science:

  1. Parent attitudes matter: If you believe your child can do something, he or she will most likely believe it. If you show an interest in learning about computers, even if you are behind the curve, your child will follow suit. Take care not to pass down any gender stereotypes you may have about technical ability.
  2. Early exposure is key: Screen time does not have to be time wasted. Expose your children to educational computer games and learning tools early. Take advantage of your local library and school computer labs if money is tight at home. Many computer programmers and engineers started fiddling with and programming computer code when they were small.
  3. Choose a STEM education: Consider enrolling your daughters, and sons, in a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) focused charter school.

The Difference a STEM-Focused Education Can Make
In a STEM-focused school, like Concept Schools charter schools, girls receive a solid foundation in the subjects they will need to succeed in computer science in college and careers. In addition to offering smaller class and school sizes, as well as more personalized instruction, Concept Schools builds confidence and facility with technology and early engineering skills by:

  1. Hiring educational professionals that have deep content knowledge STEM subjects—something that can be hard to achieve when most people with STEM degrees pursue technical careers rather than teaching.
  2. Offering progressive integrative technology in the classroom yet realizing that “more technology” is not necessarily better learning.
  3. Encouraging participation in extra-curricular activities built around STEM, including robotics clubs and math competitions.
  4. Welcoming local business leaders and professionals to talk with students about their career choices so girls and boys alike have positive role models.
  5. Routinely visiting college campuses, engineering labs, and current college students to explore their future majors and career choices.

A recent article in Mother Jones highlights the need for girls and minorities especially to gain early computer programming skills so they can be competitive in the emerging job market. As as the article states, this doesn’t have to mean that these kids will become computer programmers.  It is the “computational thinking” that coding fosters that is the key to future success. And there are plenty of fun ways to develop the problem-solving skills students need to tackle tricky problems and encourage teamwork from an early age. A prime example is the way Chicago’s Horizon Science Academy-McKinley Park novice all-girls robotics team, The Pink Technobots, are breaking down gender and racial stereotypes by winning competition after competition in local, state, and regional championships.

In an economy that has seen near-record unemployment in recent years, there is actually a shortage of STEM workers. If America is going to have enough qualified workers to be software engineers, system analysts, computer research scientists, and database administrators, and more, and remain competitive in the global marketplace, we must take steps today to make computer science an enticing career choice for girls.

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