As temperatures rose in the Southeast earlier this month, another tragic story about a child forgotten in a hot car made its way around the news cycle. In response, 17-year-old Courtney opened her laptop and built Guardian Angel, a mobile app that reminds parents to check the car seat before exiting the vehicle.
Courtney is smart and excited about technology – and best of all, she’s not alone. Over the past five years, I’ve been leading the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing program, a tech pipeline for young women that has introduced me to scores of similarly talented girls who are breaking stereotypes, building code, and solving problems with technology.
With the help of the Clinton Global Initiative America, NCWIT is working to add 10,000 more girls to the nation’s technology talent pool. Here are our reasons why American needs more girls in tech.
1. Our Workforce Needs Girls (Really Badly)
Following the Great Recession, many Americans are getting back to work – but not necessarily in the right fields. Millions of people, especially women, are taking low-skill, low-wage jobs to make ends meet. Meanwhile, high-skill jobs in tech pay more, and filling them is critical for growing the middle class and the economy.
The good news is that the U.S. Department of Labor predicts there will be 1.2 million jobs in computing and IT by 2022. The bad news is that America’s current pipeline will only fill 39 percent of these jobs with U.S. workers. Women could help the U.S. close that gap – if computer science were more inclusive. While women earn 57 percent of undergraduate degrees, they make up only 18 percent of computer and information sciences degree recipients (ncwit.org/bythenumbers). Clearly, we have a numbers problem. And in a country that’s trying to get back on its feet, that’s a problem for everyone.
2. American Girls Are Moving Backwards
Standing at 18 percent, the representation of women in computer science is low. But considering that many social chasms close with time, gender inclusion in computing is surely better than before…right?
Wrong. As the New York Times noted, “Computer science actually is more male-dominated today than it was two decades ago.” The number of women who earned undergraduate computer science degrees in 2013 has dropped 51 percent from a high of 37 percent in 1991 (ncwit.org/scorecard).
3. Girls Are Good for Business
Addressing girls’ needs is good for business – after all, they comprise at least half of the country’s customers. Women control or influence 85 percent of consumer purchases in the U.S. Too bad we can’t say the same about who calls the shots from the supplier side. In 2012, ETSY, the online marketplace for homemade goods, realized that 80 percent of their users were women, yet 93 percent of their engineers were male – a huge disconnect. They famously sponsored women to attend Hacker School onsite at ETSY and increased their female engineering staff 500% to address this disparity. Having a workforce that is reflective of a company’s customer base creates a better understanding of customer needs, yielding better products and increasing customer loyalty (she-conomy.com).
4. Girls Are Good at Math
The idea that girls can’t do math or succeed in science is a silly myth that needs to be put to rest. Girls made up 63 percent of the 2013 Intel ISEF finalists in biochemistry, accounted for 46 percent of all Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus test-takers in 2013 (ncwit.org/bythenumbers), and contributed 47 percent of the winning projects in the Google Science Fair. But it’s not only boys who need to get the message about girls’ abilities: According to the Atlantic, female test-takers around the world reported feeling “helpless” while doing a math problem, although they scored within striking distance of their male counterparts. In other words, there is an abundance of girls who are good at math and science, but a lack of girls who know it.
5. It’s Time to Bust the Boys Club
You can barely open a tech news site without yet another story of tone-deaf sexism in the tech industry. From the blatantly offensive Code Babes and Hot Tech Today, to the rise of ‘brogrammer’ culture, to women being offered as perks at tech events, it often seems the tech industry hopped a time machine to the Mad Men era. This unwelcoming and uncomfortable environment can discourage both women and men from participating. While overt sexism is harmful, equally damaging are the frequent unconscious biases and micro-aggressions women and girls experience. One young woman, Xyla, shared the story of being told “if you want to be treated like an engineer, dress like one” by a robotics teammate when she was featured on her high school website wearing a pink sweater and flowers in her hair. Bringing more girls into the field normalizes women as technical and creates a more balanced, welcoming environment for everyone.
6. It’s the Right thing to Do
Jobs in the technology sector are high paying and are growing at more than twice the rate of all other industries. In addition, Dice.com reports that the gender pay gap for women is smaller in the tech sector than in all other sectors. Increasing girls’ participation in the computing pipeline is important for promoting equity and ensuring that girls are able to take advantage of jobs and related opportunities, live prosperous lives and pursue their dreams.. As Hillary Clinton asserted 19 years ago at the United Nations 4th World Conference on women, “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.”
Women aren’t a niche group—we make up half of humanity.Equity for girls in technology workforce is simply the right and just thing to do.
7. Gender Inclusion Begets Innovation
NCWIT’s Who Invents IT—a report on the existing literature on increasing girls’ participation in computing—found that teams comprising both women and men produce IT patents that are cited 26–42 percent more often than the norm for similar types of patents. Additionally, a wealth of research in the past decade shows that diversity improves problem-solving, productivity, innovation, and ultimately, the bottom line (ncwit.org/thefactsgirls). This is most evident when diversity is missing from the design team. Having been designed by a predominantly male team of engineers, early versions of PBX voicemail systems often hung up on female callers because they hadn’t been calibrated to recognize the higher octaves of the female voice. Including women ensures that the design of future technology is as broad and innovative as the population it serves.
8. Girls Really Like Models
And I don’t mean the ones walking the runway. (Although every girl should know Lyndsey Scott.)When girls see ‘near-peer’ role models and peers succeeding in technology, they are more interested in technical subjects and less affected by stereotype threat(Girls in IT: The Facts). By inviting girls in, more will follow. With an infusion of 10,000 girls in computing, imagine how many more would see it as a viable option. As children’s rights activist Marian Wright Adelman says, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
9. Girls Are Already Making the Grade in Bio (Science)
Using AP test-taking as a measure of pipeline illustrates the true nature of STEM participation for girls. Female test-takers exceed or are close to parity with males in psychology, calculus, biology, and chemistry, but only account for 18 percent of AP computer science test takers. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, women already make up nearly 60 percent of degree recipients in biology, a whopping 85 percent in health professions, and around 50 percent in social sciences. In fact, 20 times as many girls took the AP biology test, as did AP computer science. The majority of women in ’STEM’ fields choose life sciences, so simply saying we need to increase the number of women in STEM is a mistake. Instead, we need to narrow the conversation to focus on computing and IT fields, where the shortfall is the largest.
10. Girls Improve the World
It’s no wonder that girls often pursue biology, medicine, and social sciences: According to the Girl Scouts of the USA Generation STEM report, 80 percent of girls want a career that helps others or makes a difference in the world. It makes sense that girls gravitate towards health sciences, as their own pediatricians are often the only particularly compassionate STEM professionals that many girls meet, and popular media romanticizes the heroic characters of the emergency room.
However, tech professionals also have a tremendous capacity to make the world a better place, even if it’s not as readily apparent. Just ask Alexa – the University of California, Davis computational biology major wanted to improve life and safety for the deaf, including her aunt and friends. After crowdfunding over $2,500, Alexa developed Auditory Hindsight, a Google Glass app that provides a visual cue of sounds outside one’s line of vision, like someone calling your name or a car approaching from behind. Alexa saw a need and an opportunity, and her solution could save a life.
Alexa represents just one of the reasons that we need more girls in computer science. And through NCWIT’s new CGI America commitment – which will roll out 400 computing programs for U.S. girls over the next four years – we plan to show you 10,000 more.
This post originally appeared on The Shriver Report.