America has moved into a knowledge economy at a rapid pace. More and more aspects of our daily lives are becoming computerized. Soon, we will be two kinds of people – those who make the software and shape our lives, and those whose lives are shaped by the software.
Yet, even with this rapid growth into a computerized society, only 2% of our nation’s students study computer programming – and the majority of them are men. In 41 states, computer science classes don’t count toward high school graduation requirements. Hardi Partovi, founder of Code.org, says if our country tripled the number of students studying computer programming to just 6%, we could close the gap between students and jobs – driving $500 billion in economic value to our country and impacting every industry.
Currently, women and girls are desperately underrepresented in STEM fields like computer programming. Women are less likely to persist in STEM majors in college than their male peers, make up a smaller number of people with STEM graduate degrees, and are even less likely to pursue a STEM career after graduation.
A study by Georgetown University shows that women begin to divert from STEM even before beginning college – data shows it can begin as early as middle school. When young girls are given dolls to play with instead of building blocks, traditional ideas about women’s roles in society and the workplace are reinforced. Other factors reinforcing these biases are gender bias and discrimination, classroom climate, and the lack of female STEM role models.
Fewer girls interested in STEM = fewer women earning STEM degrees = fewer women in STEM jobs.
The benefits of working in STEM are tremendous for women. STEM jobs usually begin at a higher base salary and become larger than earnings in non-STEM occupations. For a 25-29 year-old woman, the average annual earning for a beginning STEM career is $50,000, whereas the beginning salary is $30,000 in a non-STEM career. The gender gap for STEM wages also remains relatively small, right around 5 percent upon entry. Women who work in STEM fields earn on average 33 percent more than their counterparts in other fields.
Encouraging women and girls to follow STEM career paths like computer programming is essential to ensuring our country is innovating, educating, and building the best we can in a global economy. STEM careers offer women and girls opportunities to engage with the most cutting-edge technology and become leaders in discovery and innovation.
There are many initiatives to help boost girls’ interest and motivation into STEM careers including:
The North Carolina Girls STEM Collaborative brings together organizations throughout North Carolina that are committed to informing and motivating girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Goldie Blox is a company building games for girls to inspire future engineers. They tap into girls’ strong verbal skills and create construction sets bolstering confidence in spatial skills while giving young inventors the tools they need to build and create amazing things.
Girl Develop It is an international organization, that exists to provide affordable and accessible programs to women who want to learn software development through mentorship and hands-on instruction.
Let’s encourage interest, boost confidence, and advocate for the education necessary for women and girls to succeed in STEM. Women are leveling the playing field more and more – and it’s time to break new glass ceilings in science, technology, engineering, and math.