Fixing the gender gap in computer science

Brigitte Larkin, Social Media Director

In 2012, a nonprofit organization called Girls Who Code was created. The founder, Reshma Saujani, created it with the mission of fixing the large gender gap in computer science. The club has two programs: one for third to fifth grade girls, and another for sixth to twelfth grade girls.
Recently, the club came to King County, at the Newcastle library. I’ve been attending the club since September of this year, and its goal is to educate young girls about the kinds of careers they can hold in the computer science field and how to code. Separated from the rigorous and expectation-filled classroom environment, the club allows me to learn with the mindset of having fun rather than coding for a good grade.

It’s commonly known that STEM needs more women. But what most don’t know is that while the number of women going into STEM careers is rising in almost every branch, women entering the computer science field is still declining. In 2014, there was not a single girl who took the AP Computer Science exam in Mississippi, Montana, and Wyoming, despite the fact that girls represent over half of AP test-takers.

However, the computer science industry is growing rapidly and needs the numbers to be increasing, not decreasing. According to the Washington Post, there are 500,000 open computing jobs in the United States, but only 40,000 new computer science graduates to fill them—7,000 of which are women.
Women’s share of the computer science workforce was 37 percent in 1995 but reduced to 24 percent in 2017. This number is predicted to continue declining unless we change the way young girls are taught computer science. This is part of the goal of Girls Who Code.

Recent research has shown that the biggest drop off in interest of computer science falls between ages 13-17. The study from the Washington Post has also shown that girls are 26 percent more likely to study computer science if they have a female teacher. In my local Girls Who Code club, I have a female volunteer teaching the curriculum, and I have found the experience to be more comfortable.
In order to create gender parity in computer science, we need to start reaching girls at a a younger level in a more friendly atmosphere. Organizations like Girls Who Code are a good start, but we also need to find a way to make courses in high school, like AP Computer Science, seem more appealing and open.