What is GirlTech? Before I tell you that, I have to tell you where it comes from. (tl;dr – an awesome new club for HS girls about coding, leadership, and mentoring).
In the last year or so I have noticed increased media attention to things close to my experience: Sheryl Sandberg told women to Lean In, Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote about Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, the PISA results pointed to a persistent gender gap in math achievement, and companies like Google started talking about their own gender gaps in technical fields. The media is full of stories about women who have left the technology industry and is busy looking at the root causes for their departure. How are these connected? Read on…
In 2003 during my MA in Secondary Education, I did an analysis of (then-current) research on the gender gap in mathematics. Much of it pointed to play in early childhood, and modeling expected behaviors – the evidence was overwhelmingly nurture and not nature. At that time, the gender gap in math achievement had been decreasing over decades and was expected to be eliminated. Why, then, has it not been? Why are universities graduating less women with Computer Science degrees than 20 years ago, when companies are still hiring computer science majors (and students from all STEM fields fit so easily into those programs)? Where did all the pink toys come from?
I don’t have an answer to those questions, but I have spent many late nights pondering them (thanks Cohort21!). What I can offer is the ability to act. I am one of the women who left the tech industry, and am now a high school math teacher. Currently, I work in a K-12 school with vertically-aligned programs, teaching students who are applying to universities. I have experience in the tech industry, and have studied this gender gap. So I have designed a response.
GirlTech is a new club for girls in grades 9-12. High school girls get together during lunch and learn to code. But learning to code is so much more than coding: It is understanding logic structures, making clear and efficient instructions, and communicating in a new language. This language may not be required of them in their future careers, but knowledge of the language and its structures will enable them to pursue many more opportunities. Understanding code opens doors.
Beyond coding, the girls in GirlTech are engaging in our school community as leaders. They are receiving leadership training and have opportunities to act as role models in the school: as teaching assistants, as coaching assistants, as remarkable and intelligent young women. It is cool to be good at math and science and technology, and these girls are living proof.
Learning the language of technology and accepting a role as a leader isn’t enough, though. These girls also need to be able to look “up” and see women being successful in these careers. So GirlTech invites professional women to come and talk during our Mentor Lunches. We get to hear how these women progressed in their careers, how they got from high school to their current position, what choices and opportunities they encountered, and what they do to remain balanced. We hear how their unique perspective as females helps them find success in their current role, and the girls get an idea of what it might be like to work in such a field.
GirlTech is about more than getting girls into technology and creating opportunities for their futures. It is about creating a group of young women who understand that technical ability alone does not create success. Positive and supportive networks are also key to achieving goals – this is true in any field, and particularly necessary for young women in STEM. GirlTech is building three skills simultaneously: learn to speak “code”, find a mentor to guide you, and lead those who follow you. Is that enough to close the gender gap in the entire industry? Not yet, but it’s a start.