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I’m an engineer and a father.
As any father would, I want what’s best for my daughter. I’ve seen data showing the future of employment lies in technology, with an estimated 1.4 million technology jobs that will become available by 2020. What’s concerning are the persistent obstacles my daughter and the ever-growing thousands of other women in STEM-related fields must face.
I can see my daughter’s aptitude for math and science. I dream of her following in my footsteps and pursuing a career in engineering, but the odds are not in her favor. A record low number of women are majoring and selecting careers in the field of computer science. Girls made up more than half of Advanced Placement test takers in 2012, but only 19 percent of students taking the AP Computer Science exam were female. More recent data shows 74 percent of girls in high school report an interest in STEM. Yet by the time they get to college, only 4 percent choose to major in STEM subjects.
Today, women comprise the majority of the workforce, and are increasingly becoming the primary breadwinners of households across the country – yet they hold just 25 percent of jobs in STEM-related fields. While 37 percent majored in CS degrees in 1984, just 18 percent graduated with a CS degree in 2012, and of those who do receive a degree in CS, only 20.6 percent obtain a job in the STEM field.
The growing gender gap in STEM is not a “female problem” – it’s the domestic policy issue of our time. We need to empower an entire generation of young women now. Our leaky pipeline and talent shortage is simply unsustainable. Currently, women make 85 percent of consumer purchases, but aren’t on the other side designing products. The U.S. can’t out-innovate unless the people buying our products are the people building our products.
I dream of her following in my footsteps and pursuing a career in engineering, but the odds are not in her favor.
Many in the technology industry understand the gender gap problem. High profile figures, like Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, Jack Dorsey of Twitter, and Lowell McAdam of Verizon, have even spoken out about the issue, but we need more STEM leaders to speak up.
Organizations such as Girls Who Code, where I work, help encourage young women to enter STEM fields. Girls Who Code immerses young women in technology; teaching them coding skills, placing them in programs at highly desirable companies and, most importantly, providing them a safe space where they are not the only girls in the engineering class.
Data gathered at Girls Who Code shows just how much of a difference programs like these can make in closing the gender gap for good. Almost 90 percent of Girls Who Code alumnae say they want to pursue a career in technology or computing and 94 percent say they want to go on to major or minor in Computer Science in college. It’s not just the girls in our program that are affected — teaching girls to code creates a butterfly effect: when you teach one girl, she goes on to teach others.
Systematic change is hard, and without targeted programs supported from the top down, change is often unsuccessful. We need to continue to amplify programs, like Girls Who Code, that increase girls’ access to STEM skills and jobs through mentors and field trips and immersion into a curricula with an emphasis on computational thinking. My daughter’s future and so many other daughters’ futures depend on us closing the gender gap — my dreams and her dreams cannot wait.