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In the booming information technology (IT) industry today, women represent only 25% of the workers in computer and mathematical jobs. The IT industry continues to be one of the top growing industries in the world. According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics back in 2009, the number of jobs in computer systems design should grow by 45% within the next decade. With such a promising future of IT, the gender disparity in IT is particularly worrisome since it contributes to larger problems. One of these problems is discussed in our previous blog post about the gender pay gap. Other problems include a lack of diversity in the field and perpetuation of stereotypes about people who work in the technology industry. Since our lab is located in Seattle, one of the top technology cities in the country, we decided to investigate what local and non-local organizations were doing to address this problem. In response to the persistent and harmful gender disparities in IT, companies and non-profits such as Microsoft, Google, and Code.org have developed programs to encourage women to enter IT. Since both Microsoft and Google are located close to our lab, we decided to investigate into what these programs look like and how they are promoting inclusivity among women in IT.
In 2013 Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer introduced a new Microsoft initiative of programs and partnerships between nonprofits known as YouthSpark to engage youth with computers and technology. One of these programs tailored towards females is DigiGirlz. DigiGirlz offers free online courses, week-long day camps, and events on DigiGirlz Day. This initiative seeks to introduce girls to the field of computer science through the use of girl-exclusive camps. DigiGirlz High Tech Camp is open to any girl age 13+ whether she has coding experience or not. Some of the activities at the camp include technology tours, networking opportunities, and hands-on workshops. Girls who attend the camp or come to DigiGirlz Day have the opportunity to meet women in the field of technology and gain a new perspective of the people who work in IT. It is a prime opportunity to dispel common stereotypes of the field, which our research shows to be a factor for why women do not enter computer science (Cheryan, Plaut, & Handron, 2013).
Google created programs to encourage interest within computer science with its initiative Google for Education. Google has created an entire website dedicated to women with its Made W/ Code website. Similarly to DigiGirlz, Made W/ Code sports a multitude of photographs on its site of women and girls coding and using computers. There is also a community page that provides more resources for females interested in coding to link up with other women in the field or other websites such as girlswhocode.com. Another tool on the website is the events page which shows the closest coding opportunities based on the location you choose in the search bar. Made W/ Code also has a 'Mentors' and 'Makers' pages that feature real-world examples of women contributing to computer science. Our research shows that it is important for female role models to help retain other females within the field of computer science, but that both men and women can be successful in recruiting females.
Code.org takes a different approach by aiming to encourage all genders to participate in coding. Code.org's mission is to provide resources and accessibility to learning programming. The website features mostly gender neutral motifs and there are activities geared towards all age ranges starting as young as 4 years old and up. Code.org also started an initiative which is backed by many companies and organizations called Hour of Code which encourages anyone from any background to take up coding for one hour during Computer Science Education Week. According to Code.org, over 10 million girls tried coding during Hour of Code in 2013.
One question with the way DigiGirlz and Made W/ Code are promoted is the girl-exclusivity. Do girls need to be separated from boys in learning about technology? As our research shows (here and here) it is important for the environment to not be seen as "just for boys." To allow more females to enter the ranks of computer science, it is important to make an environment welcoming to all genders. With these changes hopefully we see more women entering IT and thus changing the way technology is developed, marketed, and used.