Jobs for the girls: how to get more women into IT through coding clubs

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Hiring programmers has become a struggle for enterprises and the software industry. In the U.S. alone, there are nearly 250,000 job openings for software developers, according to the App Association – yet still women are shying away from careers in technology. This must change if we are to stop the digital skills gap widening.

Shockingly, computer science is one of the very few professional areas where the number of women entering the field is going down. According to U.S. National Science Board indicators, women accounted for around 37% of U.S. computer science degrees in 1984. It has since fallen to around 18%. This has a huge knock-on effect on the digital economy. Non-profit (ISC)², for example, which represents security leaders, maintains there is currently a shortage of three million cybersecurity professionals, and the skills gap will only widen if action isn’t taken. The European Commission is forecasting that there could be as many as 756,000 unfilled jobs in the European IT sector by 2020.

Despite computer roles offering an exciting career path and some of the highest salaries available, the National Center for Women and Technology (NVWT) claims we are failing to make computer education accessible and attractive to girls. Perhaps most worrying is that women already employed in the field of technology are leaving in droves. It is estimated that women are now exiting the technology industry 45% faster than men. A poll by UK recruitment site Indeed saw lack of career growth or trajectory as the major reason for this, followed by poor management and slow salary improvement. In the same poll, only half of women working in tech said they believe they have the same opportunities to enter senior leadership roles as their male counterparts.

The only way of moving the technology industry away from this male dominance is to get more women into tech roles by challenging negative stereotypes and strengthening women’s networking and mentoring opportunities.

Inspiring girls to code

Due to the lack of positive role models and exposure to tech jobs, girls can quickly lose interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in school and see these subjects as “only for boys.”

Research by Dr. Shalini Kesar, Associate Professor, Department Of Computer Science And Information Systems, South Utah University in association with Microsoft found that 30% of girls had already decided not to pursue coding and programming in high school. By the time they were in college, this figure was up at 58%.

In her research, Kesar suggests that girls don’t see STEM careers as being creative or having a positive outlook on the world. However, her research shows that by opening up their world to positive STEM experiences, this negative outlook can be dramatically altered.

Kesar also found that conditions and context can make a real difference to the way girls and young women view STEM. A complete change in curricula is not needed to create real impact; significant progress can be made simply by showing how STEM is applicable outside the classroom.

Kesar discovered that girls who take part in STEM club activities outside school are more likely to pursue STEM as a career. A number of clubs have been established to encourage women of any age to code, organizations like Code First Girls, a non-profit which aims to teach coding to 20,000 women in the UK by 2020. They organize coding courses for individuals and also work directly with companies.

Rail Girls is a global volunteer community born in Finland that has set up weekend workshops to teach girls programming. They even teach them how to build web apps and provide opportunities to get involved in source code projects.

Girls Who Code is a global non-profit that helps schools and communities set up after-school clubs for girls to learn coding.

Code Club, whose aim is to give every child between 9 and 13 years of age the confidence to work with technology, says an encouraging 40% of its students are now girls.

Girls needed to fill the tech talent pool

The tech industry can provide a rewarding career path, and technology companies desperately need female talent to fill their talent pools and bring balance to their organizations. Digitization is now a part of all our lives, and women, as avid consumers of technology, bring a new perspective to the innovation landscape.

Diversity in the workforce can also improve the bottom line by as much as 19%, according to a report by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Its research maintains that "increasing the diversity of leadership teams leads to more and better innovation and improved financial performance."

It is imperative that girls’ technology skills are nurtured from a young age to improve the pipeline of women entering the world of technology. As well as appealing courses, they need support from their teachers and strong female role models from the industry with a technical background. Women like Marissa Mayer, Co-founder of Lumi Labs and former CEO of Yahoo.

By inspiring a new generation of young women to enter the technology industry, and to learn coding, we are empowering female innovators who can help build the companies of tomorrow.

Read about the women pioneers in technology who contributed to the development of the computer, mobile networks, COBOL and neural networks.

Jan Howells

Jan has been writing about technology for over 22 years for magazines and web sites, including ComputerActive, IQ magazine and Signum. She has been a business correspondent on ComputerWorld in Sydney and covered the channel for Ziff-Davis in New York.