Getting More Girls to Code
Why are so few girls interested in computer science?
The gender gap in computer science is growing. In 1984, women represented 37 percent of all computer science graduates. Today, that number has decreased to only 12 percent. At the same time, the U.S. is running into a shortage of qualified developers because large segments of the population are not considering careers in technology, Girls and the number of interested women and minorities is even smaller.
Seventy percent fewer students have majored in computer science since 2000, according to Computing Research Association data, and the number women studying computer science has declined by 80 percent. The Higher Education Research Institute determined that of the only 1 percent of students majoring in computer science in 2009, 0.3 percent of those were women. By 2020, universities are expected to produce only enough qualified graduates to fill 29 percent of the 1.4 million computer specialist job openings.
According to data collected by the National Center for Women in Technology, only 25 percent of computing-related jobs in 2009 were held by women – and only 2 percent of those women were African-American, 4 percent were Asian, and just 1 percent were Latina. Women of color represent less than 3 percent of people in technology fields, according to Women 2.0.
But why? A 2009 Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology report suggests that lack of access to technology and computer science classes in schools, and a lack of role models and mentors, are among the barriers that make it difficult for women and people of color to enter – and to stay in – computer and technology fields.
Underrepresented students are more likely to be in school districts lacking the resources for a rigorous computer science curriculum, the report found, and unequal access to technology and curriculum starting at the K-12 level creates an ongoing disadvantage. In addition, the perception that computer science is a “white male profession” discourages girls and minorities from entering the field, especially girls of color.
On top of this, women and minorities who pursue computer science and engineering often experience feelings of isolation or exclusion caused by being the only woman, minority, or minority woman in their work environment.
Isolation is a key factor for a higher attrition rate among women and minorities, Director of the Diversity in Information Technology Institute at UNC Charlotte Teresa Dahlberg said to the SD Times. And nearly half of all minorities leave technology jobs to enter other occupations. In a room full of 25 engineers, nonprofit startup Girls Who Code explains, only 3 of them are women.
What it is not
It is not that boys are innately better in science and math than girls, said researchers who analyzed international tests and found that girls have the same ability as boys to succeed in math and science in a 2012 study called “Debunking Myths about Gender and Mathematics Performance.”
“If you take the averages worldwide, you do not see any gender gaps – boys and girls perform about the same, on average,” they found. The research suggested, instead, that cultural and social factors affected whether someone was good at math, not gender.
The study analyzed data from 86 countries through international standardized tests for mathematics and science. They found that in many countries, there existed no gap between girls’ and boys’ average scores. In other countries, including the U.S., they found that a gap existed but was narrowing with time.
In the 1970s, for example, there were 13 boys for every one girl who scored exceptionally high on the SAT math test. By the 1990s, the ratio had decreased to three boys for every one girl.
Interestingly, countries that ranked higher on gender equity – how women performed relative to men in education, health, political power and economic participation – had higher math scores in general for both girls and boys. The U.S., comparatively, ranked 31 out of 128 for gender equity. (Iceland ranked as the top gender equal country in 2012, and Finland ranked second.)
Another 2012 study by the Association for Psychological Science concluded that not only do women and girls have strong skills in the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), but that they have strong skills in other areas such as verbal skills that may cause them to choose career paths other than those in STEM.