Addressing the gender gap and extending the cognitive gains from coding

Image: Girls Who Code
Photo: Girls Who Code

The problem is clear: while tech job growth continues in the United States, girls are being left behind. And today, women comprise 18 percent of all computer science graduates – 19 percent less than they did in 1984. “Girls Who Code” is focused on closing this gender gap, and extending to more young people the cognitive benefits of exposure to coding education and computer science.

The New York City-based nonprofit Girls Who Code, founded in 2012 as a response to the growing gender gap in coding education and computer science, has the mission of inspiring, educating and equipping girls with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities.

Emily Reid, Director of Education for the organization, works to ensure that Girls Who Code programs provide quality computer science education. “Cognitively, computer science teaches students to think both creatively and logically,” she says. “Computer science is primarily about solving problems you are interested in, and often doing so requires a significant amount of imagination and creativity.”

Reid acknowledges the social gains that can be achieved through exposure to such educational programming.

“Socially, true computer science is collaborative, and the best technical products are developed in teams,” she notes. “Students in our programs must work together to develop a project together, and our girls learn how to lead, communicate their projects, and work well with each other.”

The organization focuses on teaching middle and high school girls computer science, in large part through its Summer Immersion Program, an intensive seven-week program which blends project-based education with real-world tech industry exposure.

Reid originally began her tenure with Girls Who Code teaching in the Summer Immersion Program in 2014. She was amazed by the outcome: “Our students came into a seven-week program with little to no experience in computer science, and they lacked confidence in themselves.”

She continues, “By the end of the program, they were creating their own web apps and programming robots, and they could code in three programming languages. They were also more confident in themselves.”

“The tech industry and the technology that surrounds us will solve new problems and do a better job solving current problems with a more diverse workforce.”

Reid considered those results in contrast with her own journey, something which heightened her appreciation of the developmental and cognitive gains possible through computer science education and the benefits of the Girls Who Code approach. “The transformation I saw in them in seven weeks was a change that took me years to make,” she says.

The organization also hosts school clubs, which leverage the volunteer efforts of professionals to lend mentoring and expertise to groups of young women interested in coding and computer science but not able to participate in a Summer Immersion Program.

“Computer science is one of the fastest growing, most profitable, and most creative fields today,” notes Reid. “We want young women to be a part of that industry for their own livelihood, and we believe that the tech industry and the technology that surrounds us will solve new problems and do a better job solving current problems with a more diverse workforce.”