Closing the gap

Closing the gap
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Software is central to how we live, learn and work. Whether predicting weather crises, providing life-saving healthcare answers or ensuring the safety of air traffic around the globe, software is a key building block to solving some of the world’s most complex problems. 

The technology we love and depend on to improve our daily lives is possible because of software. Apps on your phone are software — written by coders. Big data analytics and cloud computing are powered by software — written by coders. As such, the demand for coders will only increase with each passing year. 

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According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), nearly 1.2 million computing jobs will be available in 2022, yet universities in the U.S. currently are only producing 39 percent of the graduates who will be needed to fill those jobs. So what’s the answer? 

It’s right in front of us.

Women today hold only one-quarter of all information technology jobs and, according to the Labor Department, only 20 percent of software developers are women. In 1984, 37 percent of all computer science graduates were women — but today that’s down to just 18 percent, according to the NCWIT. And among school-age girls, just 20 percent of AP computer science test-takers are female, and less than 1 percent of girls in high school express an interest in majoring in computer science. 

Last year, U.S. News & World Report ranked software developer as the best job in the country. But teaching girls to code will do more than just prepare them to get great jobs. It will shift the tech and software landscape to a more multi-dimensional one that will enable more and more girls to be inventors, creators and innovators. This is a huge opportunity for progress, innovation and growth.

Research conducted by the American Association of University Women shows that young women’s interest in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — typically wanes in high school. This is the result of everything from unconscious teacher discouragement to societal norms that continue to misguidedly portray STEM as male terrain. 

We need to actively encourage more young women to learn about software engineering early in their academic careers. Girls with such amazing potential to be the history-making inventors and innovators of tomorrow need to understand that the software, applications and tools developed in STEM fields are helping so many people and truly making a difference in the world. 

As two women leading global technology organizations, we are personally and professionally committed to working to address this. We’ve joined to support the first-ever Girls Who Code summer immersion program in Washington, D.C., which kicked off June 29. This seven-week, intensive program will mean building real-world software and coding skills for girls of high school age and inspiring their passion for future exploration in computer science and engineering. 

This summer’s program brings together 60 high school girls from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia for hands-on training and workshops in software development, coding and design. The girls will participate in mentorship activities, including visits to learn from the Washington offices of top-tier U.S. technology companies, leaders in the field, senior government officials and members of Congress. 

If we mean it when we say we want more fresh perspectives in the field and different ways of problem-solving, we need more initiatives like Girls Who Code. Companies, policy makers, schools and parents alike share the responsibility — and the enormous opportunity — to help develop a well-trained, diverse pipeline of female computer scientists and engineers ready to tackle the complex challenges in today’s increasingly software-driven world.

“We don’t even know what the world would look like if we gave girls the leverage and power of technology,” Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, has observed. “Their ideas are centered around changing the world. They’ll do it. I have no doubt.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Espinel serves as CEO and president of BSA | The Software Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates for the global software industry before governments and in the international marketplace. Hill is vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training’s Ship & Aviation Systems business,overseeing a diverse portfolio that includes the Littoral Combat Ship program, Coast Guard systems, rotary wing, fixed wing, unmanned aerial systems, lasers and more.