Smashing Stereotypes with Girls Who Code

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Andrea Gonzales, 17, was told by her friends that coding is “well, kinda nerdy.” Natasha Driver, another high schooler from New York agrees that she believed the stereotype that only nerdy boys coded until recently. Given that less than 1% of high school girls answer with computer science when asked what they want to study in college, this stereotype is clearly pervasive.

Luckily, given the shortfall of tech employees expected by 2020, more and more women and girls are learning how to code.

Gonzales and Driver are among these girls. Both of them joined the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program last year, a 7-week intensive course.

Reshma Saujani, former New York City Deputy Public Advocate, founded this initiative in 2012 in an effort to close the digital employment gender gap, aiming to train 1 million girls by 2020.

Saujani was campaigning to become the first South Asian women in congress when she noticed that girls seemed to have less access to technology than boys. “I knew I had to do something to level that playing field,” she says.

She herself “lacked confidence about [her] math skills” growing up, which she notes is “an ironic twist, given that both [her] parents are successful engineers.”

Natasha Driver similarly had not considered a future in technology until she completed the program. She wanted to help others in her career and, until she completed GWC, did not consider programming a viable way to do so. Now, however, she has a scholarship and plans to major in both computer and political sciences at DuPauw University in the fall.

Gonzales values programming as a new way to express her creativity. She also praises the program for improving her confidence in speaking and pitching ideas.

Saujani is pleased with the program’s progress so far, but still hopes to do more. Recently, she launched the Girls Who Code Clubs to help involve younger girls even sooner in computer science.

In 2014 alone, 2,200 girls completed the Girls Who Code after-school program in 20 states and the summer immersion program’s attendance increased to 375 participants from 152 in 2013. Of the 90% of participants who go on to study computer science, 77% mention GWC as a key factor in shaping their choice to follow this path.

GWC recently received the 2015 Forbes Impact Award in Leadership presented by Northwestern Mutual as well as $7.7 million in corporate sponsorship, clearly setting it up to continue making an impact in the world.

Northwestern Mutual says, “In an industry where a single line of code can touch literally billions of people, that’s an opportunity young women today don’t want to miss.”

Source: Northwestern Mutual Ideas & Insights Team