Why More Females Aren’t Learning to Code and What the U.S. Government Is Doing to Change It

Written by wyncode on 14th November 2014, 12:13 PM

Male computer coders greatly outnumber their female counterparts. In fact, women earn fewer than one in five undergraduate computer science degrees nowadays. Silicon Valley’s largest technology companies, meanwhile, currently have staffs that are approximately 70 percent male.

Prior to 1984, women represented a much higher proportion of computer programmers. Then, during the mid-1980s, a cultural shift occurred. When movies and television shows portrayed computer enthusiasts, those characters were usually male. Moreover, when personal computer manufacturers advertised their products, they tended to depict boys and men using them.

Those media messages have had lasting societal consequences. In 1985, a National Science Foundation (NSF) study indicated that 55 percent of women and only 27 percent of men refrained from using computers during the average week. Likewise, boys tended to use computers at home significantly more often than girls did. Therefore, at the college level, men’s computer skills were more advanced overall.The U.S. government is now striving to reverse this gender disparity in coding in a variety of ways.

One strategy is to greatly increase the availability of coding classes in public schools so that girls will be on an equal footing with boys in terms of exposure to programming and specific computer skills. For example, the NSF has launched the CS10K Project. The intent of this program is to add challenging computer science classes to 10,000 schools. One of them is a new Advanced Placement course ― one through which high school students can earn college credits ― in the field.

Many public colleges are also intensifying their efforts at engaging women in computer studies. For instance, the University of California at Berkeley has introduced a course that deals with the “beauty” of programming. Non-computer science majors can take this class, and perhaps it will stimulate interest in the subject matter in many female students. In addition, the NSF awards grants to colleges that are actively recruiting female computer majors. North Carolina’s Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College recently won such a grant; it amounted to $200,000.

Finally, the government has sought to address this issue simply by drawing the public’s attention to it. To that end, in December 2013, the White House released a statement to officially recognize Computer Science Education Week. Further, at the White House Science Fair in 2014, President Barack Obama stressed the need for more women to choose careers in math and science ― and in programming in particular.