“You need grammar, an outline, organization and the ability to break things down into individual components,” he said. “You could argue that creating software is more female-oriented than male.”
However, the field has become so male-dominated that typical computing classes feature male instructors teaching male students, Love said. Women have a hard time relating. It’s a particular shame because many computing jobs have particular advantages for women, he added.
Love often speaks to groups of high school girls about computing careers and their rewards. Many of his listeners tell him they want careers that appeal to them, and don’t care about financial rewards.
“You should,” he tells them. “The biggest [demographic] group of people living in poverty is young mothers. It would be very nice to be working at home and making $50 or $100 per hour — and be there when the kids come home.”
Besides full-time job opportunities, computer coding skills lend themselves to home-based creation of new products, and creating an app, website or game can produce an ongoing flow of cash, he said.
“You create something once, and sell it over and over again,” Love said.
That creative aspect of computing is the first thing that captured Cassidy Williams’ interest.
“The thing I loved is that it combined logic and creativity,” she said. “I think girls can be better than guys when you talk about the creative side of things.”
Family friendly careers
Media portrayals that depict people in computing job as “geeks” — usually male — color young girls’ perceptions of such careers, said Catherine Ashcraft, a senior research scientist at the National Center for Women and Information Technology.
On-screen men are much more likely than on-screen women to be depicted in computer science and engineering career fields, according to a study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media. Fewer than one in five screen characters depicted in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers is female, the study said.
The field of forensic science is one exception. Women in lab coats using chemistry and computing skills to solve crime on shows like "Bones" and "CSI" are credited for an upswing in the number of women majoring in forensic science — a phenomenon media outlets have dubbed the "CSI effect." Would it make a difference if television shows had more heroines who were computer hackers? Edalatpour thinks so.
“We need to change the stereotype that computing is for nerdy, white males,” said Edalatpour.
Doing so could give women good career options that dovetail with traditional values, said Love. A booming job market means it’s possible to drop into and out of the career, depending on family needs. And some technology jobs have flexible hours, or can be based in homes.
Several national groups are working to engage young girls in computing activities and change cultural perceptions. Girls Who Code, Saujani’s group, offers summer camps that teach high school girls to build websites and mobile apps using several coding languages. The group is only two years old, but so far, all seniors who attended the camps went on to major or minor in computing fields at college. Girls Who Code is launching clubs in schools, community centers and libraries across the nation.
The National Center for Women and Information Technology sponsors camps, clubs and after-school clubs designed to interest middle-school girls in robotics, computing and technology. Like Girls Who Code, the group offers scholarships and awards to increase female participation in technology careers. Williams and Edalatpour are both recipients.
Farmer, who directs these outreach programs, is clear about why they matter: “I want women and girls to have high-paying jobs that give them financial independence, and those jobs are in technology. There is no reason why girls should not be in technology jobs if they want to be there. We are working hard to create an environment that they want to be in and can thrive in.”
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