Girls Who Code
GIRLS WHO CODE
When you read those words what did you picture in your mind’s eye? Most people immediately think of a nerdy, white, antisocial male. But those certainly aren’t the words I used to describe myself when I first became interested in computer science. I was seventeen years old and captain of the cheerleading team in high school when I took my first computer science class, inspired by the way the tech industry was having an impact on the world. Enrolling in a computer science class seemed like a small decision in the moment; looking back, I know now that the teenage years are a crucial time, when girls lean into or opt out of certain interests.
As the reach of the tech industry expands, it’s important that the people building technology reflect those who use it. Unfortunately, women are a minority in computer science and the technology industry. From 1985 to 2010, graduates in computer science who are female declined from 37% to 18%, even though women earn 57% of graduate degrees overall. Across the tech industry, women only represent 16% of technical roles.
Why do so many teenage girls turn away from computer science? Research shows that the #1 reason girls choose not to pursue computer science is lack of encouragement, and the #2 reason is perception of the career. This shows us that Hollywood’s unflattering portrayal of computer programmers as nerdy, antisocial, white, males has a negative impact on girls, making it difficult for them to envision themselves in the field of computer science. But the inverse is also true -- positive role models can have a positive impact. One example is the “CSI effect”: shows like CSI and Bones have led to an increase in college students pursuing forensic science -- and many of them are women.
At Google, I contribute to a team focused on shaping content to inspire and change the narrative of computer science, particularly in the media and entertainment industry. I’ve worked with Hollywood writers and creators to show them what a computer programmer does and to help foster a different image of what a computer programmer looks like. In Freeform’s The Fosters, Mariana, a Latina teenager on the dance team, learns to code and combines her new coding skills with her love of dance. Loretta, the older sister on Disney Jr’s Miles from Tomorrowland, uses computer programming to solve problems she encounters on her adventures. These characters are relatable to today’s youth and show them that coding can be fun, social, and rewarding. Changing the perceptions of computer science is a long term effort, but I hope these characters and storylines start a “CSI effect” for computer science.
So what can you do to help? As consumers of media, you can use your Twitter voice to support diverse and inclusive content. As a parent, encourage the young people in your life to pursue math, science, engineering, and technology. As professionals, challenge the idea that someone must fit a certain stereotype in order to hold a certain role.
I hope that soon, anyone could hear those words and imagine themselves.