Why Computer Science Needs Women
Diversity in the workplace leads to diversity in ideas.
By Laura Cohen
Women are still underrepresented in the entire Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) field — and that's a problem for not just one gender, but for everyone. A recent Mother Jones article discussed coding as the new literacy and how skills in computer science may be key to winning the 21st century.
The article's research shows that girls tend to pull away from STEM subjects, including computer science, around middle school, while rates of boys in these classes stay steady. Fortunately, schools are catching on that computer science must be introduced in a different way to get these numbers up. A study found that teenage girls are more likely to gravitate toward a career in coding once it's explained that computer science skills can be used to "do good" — they can help connect with one's community and make a difference on big social problems like pollution and health care.
The world simply needs more coders — based on the number of computer science majors graduating each year, we're producing less than half of the talent needed to fill the Labor Department's job projections. Women currently make up 20 percent of the software workforce. Evidence supports the notion that diverse teams produce better products — A study of 200,000 IT patents found that "patents invented by mixed-gender teams are cited [by other inventors] more often than patents invented by female-only or male-only" teams. The authors suggest "that gender diversity leads to more innovative research and discovery."
A more diverse workforce simply leads to more innovation and better ideas — and the STEM field has a whole load of opportunities that women should be able to attain. As Michelle Obama said in 2011, "If we're going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, we've got to open doors for everyone. We need all hands on deck, and that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering and math."
Some groups are already working to close the gender gap in technology by creating programs that encourage young women to get involved. Black Girls Code, for example, offers affordable code boot camps to school-age girls in places like Detroit and Memphis. Another group, Girls Who Code, just kicked off its 2014 Summer Immersion Program in partnership with the world's leading tech companies. In a press release, founder and CEO Reshma Saujani said, "Too often girls don’t pursue computer science because they’ve never been exposed to it, or they don’t see the impact it can make on the world." The organization aims to give young women a positive experience with computer science that will impact their education and career decisions down the road.
We need women in this field, and the field needs women. Mother Jones adds, "Because while the rash of meal delivery and dating apps designed by today's mostly young, male, urban programmers are no doubt useful, a broader base of talent might produce more for society than a frictionless Saturday night." A good point, indeed.
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