In the mid-1980s, women made up 38 percent of the computer and IT workforce. But recent reports show that number has dropped to about 20 percent. Today, a growing number of organizations are teaching women and girls of all ages how to code. We’ll discuss why the gender gap is growing, and examine efforts to reduce it.

Inspiring Girls and Women to Code 9 September,2013forum

Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls Code
Pamela Fox, co-organizer of San Francisco Chapter Organization: Girls Develop It, a series of workshops that teach women about web development
EJ Jung, assistant professor of computer science and director of the Computer Science for San Francisco Youth program at USF, which teaches grade school girls how to make apps and reassemble a computer

  • Spock

    At a time when Silicon Valley is obsessed with hiring foreign workers instead of Americans, which often comes down to the prejudices of foreign-born hiring managers emboldened by the desire of the investor class to cut ties with American workers even while they fleece American consumers and their lobbyists pillage American democracy, it seems rather absurd to focus Americans of any gender on continuing this losing effort to train people for jobs that are gone or going. Especially now that we’ve learned Silicon Valley’s biggest players were in bed with the NSA from the start to spy on everything Americans do, it is time for American workers to rethink their relationship with the globalist American corporations whose actions indicate they despise Americans and America.

  • geraldfnord

    Shorter: it is now more necessary to have a Computer Science degree that it once was, and social pressure in secondary school and at university make it less likely that women will get that degree. If twice as many women get CS degrees than before, but it’s three times harder to get a coding job without one, that could mean little progress.

    I’d be interested in hearing if the imbalance would have a lot to do with the increased credentialisation (if that’s a word) of the industry. At my first job in the industry a couple of decades back, at least half my cow-orkers had majored in English or natural science graduates, whereas my younger colleagues now all seem to be Computer Science majors, not surprising when there have been a few cycles’ worth of start-up millionaires.

    If this is in fact true, then it means that decisions made in the context of socially propagated stereotypes (e.g. ‘ChemEs and pre-meds are cut-throat, drama majors sleep around, CS majors are guys’) become even more important than they would be otherwise, as then the decision not to be a CS major essentially becomes a decision not to be a coder…just as a middle-school shying-away from math is, usually, effectively a decision not to ever become an engineer or a scientist.

    (Now, if you’re one of the best, the industry won’t care a jot and might even revel in your unorthodox background…but by definition, very few people are among the best, so the question of whether or not most need a credential still signifies.) (And at a very large and bureaucratic firm, I knew a brilliant coder whose prospects were limited there due to his not having any post-graduate education. )

    This is essentially a Bayesian analysis, of the sort which might get me reëmployed were I but better at it, regardless of sheep-skin….

    • utera

      Actually the imbalance is this, women graduate at a higher rate than men do in general now. The number of women earning degrees above what men do each year is non trivial.
      The imbalance is also of coverage and selective concern.
      Coverage of the few startups and few jobs that are glorified excessively is a bit perverse, most graduates aren’t going to work for google. And most women who choose to go into something like medicine instead of cs do very well for themselves, so the question is as always, why the concern.

  • Walker Prospect

    What’s with this calling of college age women, “girls”???

    • utera

      The entire conversation is premised on a patronizing view of women being unable to make their own decisions in life. So girls is appropriate, whether intentional or not.

  • Pat Dunbar

    I have a 27 year old daughter. I ran a computer camp for a number of years in the Seattle area, mainly for later grade schoolers and middle schoolers. When we talk about introduction to girls though, I was struck by the elbowing out that boys demonstrated at even the first and second grade level, when I would take PCs into the classroom of my daughter. Teachers NEVER corrected the situation.

    Your guests talking about the sense of isolation is really big. My daughter gave up on computer science at UCSD due to continued elbowing out particularly from the professors.

    • jenniferarguello

      This is really sad. I am alum from CSE at UCSD from almost 13 years ago. The professors and the student groups are very inclusive now. Sorry to hear your daughter did not get to experience this and dropped out of CS.

    • utera

      Elbowing out? Sorry it doesn’t make sense, at this point we’re talking one laptop per child, at school or at home for most people, there is no “elbowing out” , there are online resources like code academy and options galore for anyone to learn if they are motivated. If someone “drops out” of cs because they were elbowed out at 2nd grade, they weren’t a candidate in the first place.
      Did you know bill gates literally went to school before class every day to use their computer to learn his coding. That’s self motivation. Steve Wozniak of apple taught himself to design chips from books and paper, nothing could stop him from what he loved. Trying to force your children into the occupation of your choice for your own social agenda is questionable at best. Theres little excuse at this point, you can always give your child the option to learn coding, its free, its simple, and most every house hold has at least 1 pc, the excuses are wearing a bit thin at this point.
      The truth is, most kids don’t want to learn to code, they’d rather chat with their friends, play games, and use social sites like facebook. Forcing something on your kid because it fits your social agenda is wrong, whether it be trying to force them to learn a specific instrument or profession. You should only open opportunities for them to try anything, but as I said before, there are no barriers at this point. And any kid with true interest in a subject can’t be torn away from their love, it just doesn’t work that way.

      Put it this way, if you think bill gates or steve wozniak were popular in school or got attention from girls for their interest in computers back then, you’d have a point, but obviously they did not. I’m sure there was no real positive support from their peers for their hobby/obsession, there never has been and there never will be and frankly there probably shouldn’t be. Its not a profession you choose to please someone elses idea of what you should be doing, and that has been a problem with women right? Eager to please, you might consider that sometimes children will give the parent the answer they are demanding. Whether she’s interested in coding is not certain, you can only lay the tools out and let her decide for herself.

      Furthermore this is all premised on a very bad assumption, that coding is necessary or the first thing you should teach children. Actually critical thinking skills and math are far more important, I’m sure any college level instructor would rather a student be proficient in math than in coding, coding can always be learned later, the foundation of math required to go far in that field is what kids should actually concentrate on, but I guess its not sexy to talk about. Most of this talk is putting the cart before the horse.

      Anyways all this portraying women as so fragile that they can be “elbowed out” like that is frankly counter productive. Its not anyone elses job to make you feel comfortable, its not a companies job to coddle you, its time to treat girls/women as actual equals, not go around perpetuating the expectation of fragility, which only sends out the unintended message that women are “less than” whether you like it or not..

  • Betsy Raymond

    Perhaps one way you get girls more interested in computers is to get men like Michael Krasny to stop referring to women who work with computers as “women geeks.” (And no, I don’t think most thirteen-year-old girls would really care that he was “just joking.”)

    • Robert Thomas

      I once wrote to Dr. Krasny and let him know that I didn’t particularly care for the epithet. I thought that comparing a walk of life or intellectual interest to a circus side-show performer who bites the heads off of small animals while naked in a cage was insulting. I suggested that it really wasn’t a nice thing. Dr. Krasny’s response was astonishment, but at my over-sensitivity, rather than at his presumption. I wasn’t surprised. People don’t like being criticized for name-calling. They often cite the epithet as being commonly used among people in the labeled group. We’ve heard this sort of thing before.

      However, I subsequently heard him refer to my objection to other panelists- expressing his astonishment that anyone would complain- as though seeking a defender. And while he was always supported in his opinion, I gauged a slightly increased hesitation to employ the insult. That’s something.

    • Robert Thomas

      I also sometimes think of a thing I read in the late Bruce Chatwin’s _The Songlines_. He discovered that some Aboriginal people in Australia employ the same descriptive noun for, at the same time, any ethnic European person as well as for the dole check. Both were referred to with the same word used for “meat”.

      Meat may look at a geek?

    • Chris OConnell

      Geek here is essentially used as a compliment not a slur. Maybe such references will get more girls interested!

  • William Walker

    If computer science or an introduction to engineering was required in public schools in California, or at least in computer bastions such as the Bay Area and Southern California, then the panelist would be more likely to find an African-American programmer. I am a re-entry student attempting to learn Geographic Information Systems, a type of computer design popular with geocoding or geospatial science used by urban planners and digital map programmers. I am at a disadvantage because of my inexperience with engineering classes. Let’s begin teaching high schoolers to code now. It isn’t necessary for us to wait to educate young people to program until after graduation.

    • Adrian

      I’ve worked full-time as a programmer and I disagree that you’re at a disadvantage without an engineering background, but for a bad reason.

      I have an engineer background, and within the field of programming there is a form of discrimination that happens by CS people against engineers. because CS people dislike having to consider real-world situations and issues of cost and time management. In the programming biz, CS people love to waste lots of time with elaborate procedures for entering in bug reports, changing their status, checking in code, filing of reports, going to meetings etc.

      In short, CS people more than engineers like to engage in “competence theater”, pretending always to be competent at executing business methods rather than writing good software. In fact, they are often phobic about writing software and insist it is harder than it is.

    • utera

      This is all very misguided though.
      If you begging accounting or dentistry were required in public schools you could say the same for those fields as well. But why the fixation on programming? Just look for instance at the gender divide in the grade school teaching profession, its basically hyper majority women at this point, so should we require intro to teaching in schools as well.
      Schools tend to jump on these bandwagons in technology for all the wrong reasons. In the past they were teaching children in computer classes to “type” and use “office”, or rather play “Oregon trail”. Back then there was a fear kids would be left behind if they couldn’t “type”, now we know they learn how to just for the sake of facebook. Many thousands of dollars were wasted this way, and now they will do it again.

      • Samantha Ancona Esselmann

        i think programming is important because it is useful in so many fields. If you can program, you have a skill that helps you in your personal life (fast-tracking tasks on your personal computer if you want), helps in most science professions (automating complicated analysis), and makes you a really valuable employee in many fields – you don’t need a CS degree for this to be a valuable skill. It empowers people in this age of technology. As for dentistry – i think it’s a specific enough skill (med degree required) that I’ll leave it to the professionals – although we do learn basic dental hygiene as children.

        • utera

          I don’t know about that, a solid educational foundation is far more important, one can always learn coding relatively easy once you have solid core of math built. Otherwise its just putting the cart before the horse.
          You can learn to do a lot of things yourself, change your own oil, remodel your own kitchen etc, whether its actually worth it to learn to do these things yourself is not self evident, it might just be better to earn enough to pay someone to do these things for you, if you need an app you can buy it, or pay someone to create it for you. Any additional skill is good, but too much can be made of this.

  • Grainger

    From an Asian PoV, I’ve seen a lifetime of cultural pressure pushing my female cousins away from work carriers to prioritize marriage and bring forth the next gen of grand children.

  • Samantha Ancona Esselmann

    I would be interested to know what the guests (and host Michael Krasny) think about the disparity of female representation in different STEM fields (i.e. very high representation in the biological sciences vs. low representation in physics and math). Thanks

    • utera

      Well they won’t deal with it, because the concern is just arbitrary. Women make up an every growing proportion of biological science/medical graduates. And this is when women take something like 25% more degrees than men are. So why the concern has to be the question, and one has to question whether their concern is even based on peoples actual best interests.
      Medical fields tend to have far more stability, people are born/get sick/and die all the time, job security is good, union protection exists, and women flock to such fields without any push from the supposed “concerned”. Yet imagine if all those women had done as these people wanted and gone into the volatile tech field, does anyone really think they’d be better off now? Technology is by its nature ever changing, competition is cut throat and the winners win big, the losers, well you don’t hear about that part, only the glory. But somehow, the womens groups who are so concerned always think they would make better choices than individual women could for themselves. But looking at things objectively, its hard to say they are right to think that.

      • Samantha Ancona Esselmann

        hmm, I wasn’t particularly referencing MDs – I was thinking more along the lines of PhDs in biological sciences. It’s a less stable job than it was even ten years ago. As for the rest of your comment, I’m not really sure what you’re trying to say. Could you possibly re-phrase the last bit?]

        • utera

          I was saying that many of the so called “concerned about women” groups seem to put their own ideological interest ahead of the individuals personal self interest. Its like they don’t care to know that maybe other peoples interests and ambitions might not match their social aims.

          I’m sure many jobs are unstable at this point, but tech, let alone “coding” is very unstable, it takes only a few years before things are unrecognizable, yesterday blackberry was king, today they are firing half their workforce.

          Theres also the issue of there actually being too many stem graduates that they fail to address.

          “A Matter of Supply vs. Demand: Every year U.S. schools grant more STEM degrees than there are available jobs. When you factor in H-1B visa holders, existing STEM degree holders, and the like, it’s hard to make a case that there’s a STEM labor shortage.”

          As the article shows, most stem grads don’t work in the field.

          “That study2 was by three experts in the field (Hal Salzman, a Rutgers professor, B. Lindsay Lowell, of Georgetown University, and Daniel Kuehn, who has worked with both the Urban Institute and EPI). It stated that “in computer and information science and in engineering, U.S. colleges graduate 50 percent more students than are hired into those fields each year.””

          So one must question, what are these womens groups pushing women into….. its just never asked, its just assumed they are right to do this.
          Furthermore theres a big difference between graduating or even being certified and being competent sadly. I’m sure anyone in IT has seen many many people who have paper that isn’t worth anything at all.

  • grizzley

    Seriously, Silicon Valley is an ole boys club. I’ve been selling software for major companies: SAP, IBM, SAS, Honeywell, Oracle. These companies hire predominately men to sell and there is a major bias against hiring females.

    I’ve been told many times, “this company has been told to hire a female”. In interviews the first question I had was: “What do you know about the Giants or 49ers”? Really? In other words, it’s a boys team and you won’t fit in. I could go on & on with my stories. High tech is not FEMALE FRIENDLY. Just look at the executive teams on any of the hi tech company web sites. 99% men. One female for HR, maybe for finance.

    Start-ups are the worst. All MEN! They don’t have to hire women as they are not scrutinized as much as larger companies. It’s a horrible environment. If they do hire a female, it’s because they had to. Then you are not supported by your manager or the team. They ignore you and let you fail.

    • utera

      Nonsense, you think its a giant conspiracy, all these companies working together not to hire women developers? Sounds unlikely, you seem to portray California as some deep south redneck bastion or something, when its clear silicon valley has been at the fore front of being progressive.
      The problem is you are working backwards from a faulty assumption. You assume that women are as interested in coding and technical fields as men, and then working backwards from this any disparity must be rampant sexism. But apply this to anything else and it obviously becomes questionable. Why do women not watch the WNBA for instance? Why do women watch less sports in general, it must be the old boys club keeping women from watching or supporting female professional sports right? Or just perhaps..they don’t have as much interest in general for such things.
      Technical fields like computer science are unforgiving and hard and if you don’t love what you do it shows. If you are incompetent it shows, your code works, or it doesn’t, there is no bs’ing your answer based on appealing to concensus like you can in something like a womens studies course.
      Furthermore there is no “push” for men to go into coding either. Do you think most male cs students are given the time of day by most women until they make some cash? Of course not, yet you speak of these people as if they are the privileged in society, lured in by the promise of blond bombshells and high status and popularity for their choice of field/study, sorry that’s about as far as it gets from the truth. As technical and logical people, they aren’t bigoted as you seem to imply, they respect people for what they can do, not what they can say or what they are. Your code works, your code is beautiful because it is, end of story.
      Companies hire people who get the job done. Your conspiratorial thinking is just bizarre, a manager doesn’t care whos coding his project, he wants it on time and working, end of story. No one has the luxury of being that stupid to deny people work for the sake of bigotry. And that’s a huge problem with all your conspiracy theory, you smear basically everyone in tech as being sexist because of your faulty assumptions. If companies are “forced to hire” anyone its because you are trying to enforce a quota, if the pool of available and qualified women is much smaller, demanding companies hire as many women is just by default an absurdity.

      The idea that most companies hire you based on your knowledge of the 49ers is absurd. You realize companies are there to make money, and delivering product is a huge thing, they don’t care about such trivial things, and its cartoonish you’d even bring that up. My guess is this, the few women who do go into computer science are often afflicted with the same personality defect as the men, they are on the aspergers spectrum, and as such you couldn’t figure out if a 49er’s question was an ice breaker, a serious question, or an insult.

  • grizzley

    Silicon Valley is an ole boys club!!! They don’t want women hired and if you are hired they make the environment very unpleasant.

    I have worked in many top software companies, and the majority of people hired are male.

    Just go to any website and look at the executive team. Predominately, 99% men. One female for HR.

    Start ups are the worst ole boys club!

    • utera

      Sorry no. I know you wish to portray silicon valley and even san Francisco as misogynist as Iran for some reason, but its an absurd argument. I guess by your standards teaching is an ole womens club, the gender disparity there is pretty severe. Prisons are 90% filled with men, because why? The ole boys club? Or just perhaps there are differences in men and women some people just would rather not consider. Why are most cases of people on the autism scale male? Ole boys club make it that way? Or perhaps just biology, and people with aspergers like minds tend to do better with technology, whether you like it or not.
      Environment very pleasant? What did you expect? The nerds you wouldn’t give the time of day to during school would suddenly charm you like George Clooney? No, any woman claiming the environment wasn’t pleasant is complaining about less than nothing, because they were treated the same way those guys treat everyone else.

      And I guess it gets around to this, the most damaging part of this is the unintentional subtext behind these peoples message. Whether they know it or not, they are sending the message that women are fragile, thin skinned, and prone to being unreasonable. Hardly a case for hiring more.

  • I graduated in 1985 with a CS degree, the year that made the record books in terms of the percentage of CS degrees awarded to women in the US. It was a whopping 38%. Since then, though, the numbers have dropped to less than 20%.

    But, based on my observations, the trend has reversed. Let me explain…

    My daughter is a high school junior, and she wants to study computer science in college. We’ve been visiting schools with strong CS programs, and on each campus I ask about the gender ratio in their computer science departments. The answer has consistently been, “I don’t have the exact numbers, but it’s approaching 50-50”.

    I bet we’ve all heard about Harvey Mudd’s excellent progress on improving the gender balance, and how 40% of their undergrad computer science degrees went to women in 2012. But, it looks like other schools are doing equally well. I spoke to CS professors at both Brown and Princeton, who assured me that the CS undergrads were 40%-50% women. I asked about it on tours at MIT, Harvard, and Tufts, and the tour guides all reported that there were about 50% female students in the CS department. At Harvard, the tour guide told me that, in 2007, they had 30 CS undergrads, only 3 of whom were women. In 2013, they now have 60 students, half of whom are women. Not only have they doubled the size of the program in six years, they have 10 times the number of women in that program. Impressive!

    While my research is far from comprehensive or statistically relevant, I’m excited about it. I’m thrilled for my daughter, knowing that she has a great chance of being surrounded by other female students in her computer science classes and that she’ll have great role models. I’m happy for the software industry in general, knowing that there is a growing pipeline of female talent to recruit from.

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