Why Girls?

I’m Reshma Saujani, and two years ago I founded the national non-profit organization Girls Who Code to teach teenage girls the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities and close the gender gap in technology.  We started out as a single pilot program in New York City — an 8-week summer program that paired intensive computer science education with female mentorship and tech industry exposure.

After watching our first class of 20 girls graduate from the program and go on to get internships at companies like Gilt, take the AP Computer Science exam, launch Girls Who Code clubs in their high schools, present their projects at the White House Science Fair, and otherwise blow my mind, I knew we were doing something right.

This year our Summer Immersion Program is gearing up to reach 320 young women across the country, and our Girls Who Code Clubs will reach thousands more.  Watching the incredible things 16 and 17 year old girls create and build, the friendships they form, and the passion they have for what they are learning, I never have to ask myself, “why girls?” The results of our programs speak for themselves.

But even two years after launching, the question still seems to follow me.  Whenever an article is written about Girls Who Code, I head straight to the comments section.  Inevitably, one of the first posts (usually meaning it’s the most popular) is some frustrating variation of, “Singling out girls is sexist,” or “Everyone knows girls just don’t like computer science.”

To be fair, a more productive perspective occasionally makes its way into the mix, asserting that all kids – boys and girls – should have access to high-quality computer science education.

That’s true. But as someone who has come to see this issue up close and personal, I am more certain every day that we need to do more to empower our girls in computer science and engineering.

Why?

Well, it’s not because they need extra help, or are inherently worse at it than boys are. In fact, girls are better at it.  Last year, a study found that 15-year-old girls around the world outperform boys in science, except in the US, Great Britain and Canada.  Similarly, math scores between boys and girls don’t diverge until adolescence.

And it’s not because girls aren’t interested in it. The reality is that girls consume technology more and at an earlier age than boys do, and women are the majority of users on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

We need to focus on girls because girls, unlike boys, are taught from an early age that computing fields are not for them.  They are inundated with media portrayals of the boy genius, the tech tycoon, and the mad scientist. (You know, the Albert Einstein-looking guy in a lab coat). Growing up, girls are handed a fashion doll who says, “Math Sucks” and sold  T-shirts that say, “Allergic to Algebra.”

Girls Who Code, GoldieBlox, and others are working to change those perceptions, and we need to see much, much more of that in years to come to ensure young women are on track to filling the more than 1.4 million jobs that are expected to be open in the computing fields by 2020.

But most importantly, we need to focus on girls because girls want to change the world.  It is in all our best interest to give them the tools they need to do it. Girls Who Code is leading a movement to reach 1 million girls with the skills and inspiration to become engineers and entrepreneurs, and if we bring everyone to the table–educators, CEOs, policymakers, parents, girls, even celebrities–I have no doubt we will succeed.

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