by Dana Ledyard ’03
I’m embarrassed to admit that even after spending four years studying at UNC-Chapel Hill, I never knew (until recently) that the University offers an undergraduate computer science major.
Though women outnumber men on campus at Carolina, far too few female students are taking even a single computer science course, much less pursuing a major or minor in this discipline. Nationally, unlike law, medicine, and business, where the percentage of women has steadily increased over the past thirty years, computer science is one field where the representation of women has actually declined since the 1980s to less than 20 percent of computer science graduates coming out of college today. Tech companies themselves acknowledge that within their technical teams, the percentage of women hovers around 10 to 15 percent.
So what? Why should we care about gender equality in the world of computer science and technology?
First, this is an issue of economic prosperity for the United States and for women and girls. By 2020, the U.S. is projected to have 1.5 million computing job openings, but at our current graduation rates we will only have enough college graduates to fill 29 percent of these roles. Computer science is one of the highest paying degrees out of college, and equipping women with this skill set enables them to earn a solid paycheck and generate wealth as a founder or early employee in a tech startup.
Second, research has shown that more diverse teams produce better outcomes. Companies that want to create more innovative products and design for an increasingly diverse customer base must strive to recruit and retain more women and other underrepresented minorities as employees. More women at the decision making table will ensure that 50 percent of the world’s population isn’t left out of the design and build process—and at the very least, might help companies avoid embarrassing gaffes like this.
Lastly, I believe that empowering girls to be builders and not just consumers of technology will spark confidence, entrepreneurship, and a new generation of leadership in Silicon Valley. Over the course of the Summer Immersion Program with Girls Who Code, I see girls arrive on day one feeling shy and unsure of themselves—and by graduation they’re on stage pitching products they built to CEOs and venture capitalists. Through coding, girls learn that failing (over and over and over again) is a necessary part of any endeavor, and it’s something to thrive on and learn from, rather than a reason to quit.
Building a pipeline of girls who are both passionate about technology and equipped with the skills to pursue computer science at the college level (and ultimately go on to take a technical role in the workforce) is essential to closing the gender gap in the tech industry. At Girls Who Code, we’re proud that 95 percent of our summer program participants intend to go on to study computer science at the college level. As our summer programs have grown—from just twenty girls in 2012 to over a thousand girls who will participate in 2015—I’m excited to see these young ladies learn languages, build the next killer app, and most importantly, change the face of the tech sector.
Dana Ledyard is the managing director for Girls Who Code and was recently named one of the “35 Women Under 35 Who Are Changing the Tech Industry” by Glamour magazine