Google’s diversity report last month revealed just how white and male the company — and the tech industry as a whole — really is. But in a first step to correct the disparity, the company has launched a new initiative, “Made With Code,” designed to help get school-age girls interested in coding.
By the numbers, women make up half of the economy’s workforce but are seldom represented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Women only make up about 25 percent of STEM jobs and have even lower representation in tech alone.
Google reported they employ only three women for every seven men, and just 17 percent of their tech workers are women. Google’s diversity figures echo a trend seen across Silicon Valley, and its approach to fix it could serve as an example for other tech companies. Competing Internet giant Yahoo released its own diversity report earlier this week with statistics that were painfully similar to Google’s. Yahoo, which is one of the few companies with a female CEO, boasted more female employees overall — 37 percent to Google’s 30 percent — but has only 15 percent in tech-based jobs. Both companies also reported low rates of women in leadership positions. Yahoo only had 15 percent women in tech supervisory roles, compared to 21 percent at Google, which has no female executives and only one woman on its senior leadership team.
But the lack of women in the tech workforce goes beyond obstacles in getting the job — it starts in high school. Less than 20 percent of high school girls take the advanced placement (AP) computer science test, or go on to earn a college degree in the subject. While AP computer science courses aren’t available at most schools, two states didn’t have a single female student take the test in 2013.
Girls also tend to be steered away from STEM, and many develop negative views of the field early on. A Google report found that while 80 percent of high school students are clueless as to what computer science majors learn, female students unfamiliar with the subject often associated it with words such as “boring” and “hard.” According to a study funded by the National Science Foundation, 67 percent of boys felt computer science would be a good career choice, while almost half of girls said a career in computers would be “bad,” with only 14 percent of boys agreeing with them. And despite the growing demand for tech jobs, only 1 percent of high school girls believed coding would be a part of their future.
Part of the problem Made With Code hopes to address is that girls aren’t being encouraged at a young age to consider computer science, and many doubt their abilities, Google said in its report. Women who do work in computer science said they were most encouraged to enter the field by their parents in high school, according to Google’s study. Made With Code aims to close the gap by showing girls that there’s more to coding than it seems. Girls will be able to design 3-D printed bracelets or create songs using Blockly coding technology, which lets users build programs with blocks of code rather than typing it in manually. The program spotlights women who are dancers, music producers, cinematographers and humanitarians and shows how they all use coding to do their jobs. Google is also sponsoring and partnering with similar initiatives nationwide such as Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code and Technovation.