BOSTON, Massachusetts — In 2021, a World Economic Forum report revealed that 156 countries still have to close the 32.3% remaining in the global gender gap, predicting that the gap will take just over 135 years to eliminate. Across the world, women only make up 35% of students in higher education studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), according to UNESCO. The international nonprofit organization, Girls Who Code, believes that closing the STEM gender gap is vital to eliminating the global gender gap. The organization began its work one decade ago and after seeing major success it expanded to India in 2019. Girls Who Code has set out to close the country’s gender gap and show that women, girls and nonbinary people can be computer scientists too.
Origins & Philosophy
Reshma Saujan, a lawyer and politician, founded Girls Who Code in an effort to solve the global gender gap and increase diversity in computer science workplaces, as well as make computer programs more representative of the public that uses them. The organization provides resources and computer science education to girls and young nonbinary people. Girls Who Code focuses on partnering with schools as a way to promote computer science to girls at a young age. More than half the students who participate in the organization’s programs are girls of color and come from low-income backgrounds.
The organization runs on three core values:
- Bravery – “We’re raising our girls to be perfect and we’re raising our boys to be brave,” Saujan said during a 2016 TED Talk. Saujan believes that when girls are allowed to be imperfect, they are more courageous and ambitious, and they are less afraid of participating in men-dominated fields.
- Sisterhood – The organization brings girls together so they can support and strengthen one another. “My own approach to fostering confidence is grounded in women’s sports, which have been incredibly successful in increasing the participation of girls and women,” Elena Strange, a computer science professor at Northeastern University, said in an interview with The Borgen Project. “I use coding workshops to create a sense of belonging, the same way a sports uniform does. It makes it clear and intentional that people who support you surround you and are your biggest cheerleaders.”
- Activism – Girls Who Code believes that future women programmers will transform the technology industry by making it more representative of the population it serves. “The technologies we use every day will improve because diverse teams will build them with consideration considering all the types of users on the other side,” Strange said.
Expanding to India
According to Global Gender Gap Report 2021, India ranks 140th on the gender gap list out of the 156 ranked countries. About 10% fewer women are in STEM, even though men and women are participating in higher education at almost the same rates in the country.
Girls Who Code says it wants to change the reality that only 26% of engineers in India are women. So, the organization partnered with United Technologies to make an expansion to India possible. The organization offers a two-week-long virtual summer immersion program, a six-week-long virtual self-paced program and an after-school program.
In its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Girls Who Code made computer science resources and coding activities free to download. One student in India, Meghana, made a website dedicated to raising awareness about the lack of education in rural India.
Girls Who Code has seen young girls and nonbinary people stick with and pursue computer science careers when they have the right support system. The organization is confident that it is growing the number of future women programmers in India and minimizing the country’s gender gap along the way. The girls that graduate from Girls Who Code programs go on to champion diversity and inclusion in workplaces and academia, which increases the rate of women working in technology.
In India, society traditionally expects women and girls to do unpaid domestic work for much of their lives, which heavily contributes to higher rates of women in poverty and violence against women. In 2018, men in the country performed some of the lowest proportions of total unpaid care work in the world, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).
Girls Who Code says it is on track to reach its global goal of closing the gender gap in new, entry-level tech jobs by 2030. “The result of closing the gender gap — which I’m confident we will one day — will also require the inclusion of women at every level,” Strange said. “That’s the ‘accessibility & belonging’ part.”
– Delaney Murray