Amanda Rucker, the Communications Specialist at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, joined us at the Austin Convention Center on Tuesday, March 5th to discuss how she is tearing down barriers and combatting the gender gap in the tech-talent pipeline. After earning her master’s degree in Public Relations at Boston University, Rucker has been growing CodeCrush, an iSTEM immersive program for 8th and 9th-grade girls at the University of Nebraska at Omaha College of Information Science and Technology. As important as closing the gender gap is, we must take a look into why this gap exists in the first place in order to narrow in.
According to Rucker’s presentation, women make up nearly 60% of the overall professional workforce, but only 25% of Computer and Mathematical Occupations, and even after holding steady for years, the number of women in computing careers actually dipped in 2017. Why is this? Well, it’s a combination of society, unconscious bias, and lack of role models. If young women are not encouraged and empowered from a young age to pursue an interest in tech, they don’t consider tech to be an industry that’s for them. Moreover, if they don’t have anyone to look up to in that field, they are even less likely to see themselves in that particular field. Through early education, involving educators, and building a community to support more exploration, there is a better chance we can start to tip the scales in the technology gender gap.
So why does early education, fostering community, and representation matter? Well, because computing jobs are the #1 source of new wages in the U.S. and Computer Science majors can earn 40% more than average. If girls and women are not being considered to fill these talent gaps where they are needed, then they are missing out on a serious pay off and the opportunity to equalize the gender gap. Statistically speaking, "inclusive teams make better business decisions 87% of the time" and when there is gender equality on the managerial level, "female representation in top management leads to an increase of $42 million in firm value". Those are some staggering numbers, but the logic makes sense. If we give more women and marginalized groups a seat at the table, we can better recognize the barriers that are keeping them out. We can better asses ways to diversify the recruitment process and slowly level the playing field as a whole.
So what does CodeCrush to do combat these obstacles deeply ingrained in our societal and educational system? Provided free of charge to students and teachers through government grants, CodeCrush provides an iSTEM immersion experience for 8th and 9th-grade girls and educators twice a semester. Each semester is comprised of a 3-day event consisting of workshops, afternoon field trips and panels to connect with each individual. At the overnights, CodeCrush connects the young women to role models, such as college students and alumni, who can demonstrate what tech looks like to them and how many different ways it can look (spoiler alert - it’s not like Big Bang Theory). They also provide a roadmap for teachers whose curriculum may not be as robust in the computer science department. By building a community of resources and mentors for these girls, CodeCrush has seen positive results in their efforts.
Since its inception in 2014, CodeCrush has served 232 students out from 106 schools in 79 cities, 20% of whom are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch. After completing the program, 90% of the girls intended on taking more computer science classes in school, 90% said they would consider computing as a career, and 90% felt excited to incorporate more computer science ideas in the classroom. These stats are huge when comparing to the dwindling representation of females in tech, and it is programs like this that are targeted at dismantling the stigmas and stereotypes of what tech currently looks like.
Although 70% of CodeCrushers self-identity as white women, CodeCrush is making strides to be more intersectional. By making day-long workshops more available, more students enjoy the benefit of education in technology without the requirement of an overnight stay. Also, they are working directly with school districts on an after-school program to develop a stronger pipeline, resulting in stronger partnerships. Lastly, they are committed to finding speakers and panels that represent all kinds of women, not just white. In addition to the events held each semester, CodeCrush has also launched a summer summit event that creates a space for girls and businesses to meet at the same place and work together, while concentrating on topics like battling unconscious bias and leadership in the industry. To learn more about CodeCrush and its mission, visit their website.
"The part I loved most about code crush was interacting with girls of similar interests. [My] small town…does not have much diversity- ethnicity wise, interest wise, religiously. Being able to see how people from all over think and interact with technology was very interesting." - CodeCrusher