By 2020, there will be 1.4 million jobs available worldwide in computing related fields. U.S. graduates are on track to fill a respectable 29% of those jobs, but U.S. women will fill just 3%.
Given that tech is among the fastest growing economic sectors in the country, an organization called Girls Who Code wants to up the percentage of female participants. Their mission is simple: close the gender gap in technology. They do it by working with girls between 11 and 17, because that’s where the tech gender gap first becomes the widest.
It seems to be working. Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani has seen her organization grow from 20 girls in New York City 5 years ago to over 40,000 girls in all 50 states today. It’s all in service to the organization’s stated goal of creating the largest pipeline of female engineers in the United States.
“Technology affects everything we do," says Saujani. "If you want to find the cure for cancer, if you want to do something about climate change you need technologists. And if half of our population are opting out of being technologists… that’s a problem because we need that innovation."
Girls Who Code fosters that innovation in their camps and school programs throughout the year. “We rely on volunteers that come from industry or who know how to code to come into the classroom and teach, or we train a teacher. We have teachers who are art teachers, science teachers, gym teachers who have a desire to code,” Saujani explains.
And although some areas of the country - like Milwaukee - don't currently have as large a tech industry as others, Saujani says that will change. “While there’s been a lot more tech growth in Silicon Valley, New York, and Boston, places like Milwaukee are becoming booming tech sectors because technology is a part of everything that we do.
While learning to code is the origin of this organization’s mission, Saujani explains that she’s hoping the girls walk away with something bigger: it's ok not to be perfect. “We reward them for being liked, we reward them for doing things perfectly," she says. And that sets up girls who are afraid of making mistakes. Saujani encourages her Girls Who Code to stick with the things they love even if they're hard or society doesn't reward them for it. "Don't pull yourself out of subjects or activities or opportunities where you’re not number one," she says. "Sit in that space where you might just be average but you love it anyway."