Girls Who Code
Special programs for girls are closing the gender gap in tech culture.
Computer sciences has seen a steady decline in women since the mid-1990s. As of 2018, women comprise approximately 33 percent of researchers in STEM. According to a 2021 report by UNESCO, women remain underrepresented in technical and leadership roles. Girls Who Code (GWC), founded in 2010 by Reshma Saujani, is a nonprofit organization that aims to close the gender gap in tech. (Saujani stepped down as CEO in 2020 to pursue other gender-advocacy endeavors, and Dr. Tarika Barrett now leads the organization.) The organization offers free resources and support to students of any gender while also advocating for gender-informed legislation to
According to GWC, “In 1995, 37% of computer scientists were women. Today, it’s only 24%.” GWC says that this number will continue to decline if tech culture continues to maintain the status quo.
Research gathered by Accenture and GWC indicates that there are three factors that make the most difference to girls as they progress along their educational journey: First, girls who experience computing in junior high are 18 percent more likely to show interest in high school and college. Second, if girls do not have friends in computing classes, they are 33 percent less likely to study the subject in college. Finally, 58 percent of women working in computing did not major in computing subjects as undergraduates; this means that college-age women need to be shown how computing skills can be put to work in nearly every industry.
GWC’s 2019 Advocacy Report proposes a strategy that addresses the challenges presented in three stages of a girl’s education experience (i.e., junior high, high school, and college years). If adequately supported, this strategy aims to force the gender gap to reverse course. Michaela Burger, Senior Associate, Community Partnerships & Outreach at GWC, confirms that the gender gap is on track to close by 2030 in entry-level computing roles. Burger explains that it is imperative that GWC “stay the course” to ensure that the gender-gap closure remains on track.
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GWC’s Policy Agenda offers four recommendations to lawmakers to close the gender gap in tech:
- Track and report data on computer science participation.
- Fund gender inclusion training within professional development.
- Increase exposure to women and other underrepresented minorities in tech.
- Expand computer science courses to all middle schoolers, not just high schools.
GWC has the ability to build a customized Community Partnership experience with other organizations; in doing so, GWC aids these organizations as they work to provide additional support to more extensive networks. Club programs are entirely free of charge. Club members gain access to 120+ hours of Plug & Play, project-based curriculum, meeting guides, online training, opportunities to earn swag for your Club, access to educational webinars, and other customized support. As of 2021, GWC’s network extends throughout the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and India.
GWC acknowledges that those who wish to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are often those needing more access to resources to pursue this path. Libraries provide the ideal environment for a GWC program to thrive. Libraries reduce information barriers for communities, and they also function as “hubs” for social activities. When building a Community Partnership with GWC, libraries have an opportunity to provide young patrons with more equitable access to computing resources. In addition, GWC makes it easy for libraries to broaden their scope of services to young library patrons because all Club resources are completely free to members. The hosting library, or any other facilitator, can use their discretion when generating meeting schedules.
The Connecticut State Library (CSL) has a well-established Community Partnership program with the GWC, boasting several Clubs throughout the state at public branches and school libraries. CSL provides a landing page that offers loads of information about the program to library patrons. If a library patron affiliates themselves with CSL’s Community Partnership program, they will also gain access to extra benefits, including invitations to exclusive facilitator recruitment webinars, professional development opportunities, priority consideration in a summer immersion program for students, as well as access to the larger GWC community.
A library interested in creating a Club may want to consider ways of honoring the four recommendations previously outlined in GWC’s Policy Agenda. Some suggested methods might include:
- Libraries can track and report data on computer science participation in their GWC Club program. Doing this will provide the library with a clearer understanding of how their Club might be impacting the tech gender gap on a meso level in the library community.
- Libraries can offer inclusion training within preexisting professional development curricula to staff, with an emphasis on gender biases. (The entire library community would stand to benefit from such training.)
- Libraries have an opportunity to increase Club members’ exposure to women and other underrepresented minorities in tech when deciding which library staff person(s) should facilitate or assist with hosting Club meetings and events.
- Libraries may need to consider making an extra effort to advertise the GWC Club to the younger patrons. (The Advocacy Report states that “nearly 70% of growth in the computing pipeline would come from changing the path of the youngest girls—especially those in middle school.”)
When asked how a library can start its own GWC Club, Burger answered, “To start a Club with us, a library would need a facilitator (an adult to guide students through the programming) and a decision-maker (someone who is the liaison between the Club and host site). The facilitator and decision-maker can be the same person as well, and no previous CS experience is necessary! Meeting times and length of sessions vary greatly. Some libraries host GWC Clubs once a week after school, while others host their Clubs once a month. Others run it for many days or weeks, like a CS boot camp, over the summer.”
Remember, anyone can start a Club, and no coding experience is required. GWC is a gender-inclusive program. All resources are free to use, and Club members will have lifelong alum status. GWC alumni enjoy many benefits, like e-newsletters and invitations to hiring summits. The GWC community fosters a sense of sisterhood amongst alumni; this allows professional networking opportunities to extend to the GWC alum community. GWC makes it possible for any organization, especially libraries, to play an active role in closing the gender gap in tech. (If you’re interested in creating a GWC Club, click here.)
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