As a girl in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math), the topic of this article is near and dear to my heart. It’s an opinion piece written for Wired by Reshma Saujani, Founder & CEO of Girls Who Code, a non-profit organization whose programs work to inspire, educate, and equip girls with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities.
It’s an excellent article – well written, concise and chock-full of statistics and facts about the wage & gender gap in technology and engineering. Like I said, I am a girl in STEM, so none of this is particularly shocking to me. I am well aware of these issues; I live them every day. Clicking through Wired to Girls Who Code, however, absolutely made my jaw hit the floor.
Women today represent 12% of all computer science graduates. In 1984, they represented 37%.
Despite the fact that 55% of overall AP test takers are girls, only 17% of AP Computer Science test takers are high school girls.
While 57% of bachelor’s degrees are earned by women, just 12% of computer science degrees are awarded to women.
Then there’s this:
In middle school, 74% of girls express interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), but when choosing a college major, just 0.3% of high school girls select computer science.
What the…what? Granted I’m a little dumbfounded at the moment, but that says seventy-four percent, right? 74% of girls have an interest in STEM when they have little more than a decade of life under their belts, but by the time they are old enough to for our society to expect them to choose a pathway that will lead to financial stability and a rewarding professional life, less than one percent are still interested in technology. Wow. I have to let that sit for a minute.
As a society, what in the hell are we doing to girls in those intervening years? The cynical side of me is tempted to scoff and wonder if we have Maxim-Magazine-and-Sports-Illustrated-Swimsuit-Edition-ed them to death – as in, literally killed their budding scientific, analytic, curious little spirits…or smothered their collective souls with bogus Photoshopped messages about what it means to be a woman. Certainly we have warped their pliable little impressions of what skills are truly valuable and desirable in this life, right? Less than one percent…
Oh me. This will not do.
To all those dear, smart, fierce girls, I have this to say:
You have been misled! You have been given VERY bad intel! On behalf of myself and every single adult in our culture who has led you away from nurturing your brilliant, inquisitive mind, I am deeply sorry. If you have a spark or passion for science, technology, computers, engineering or tinkering now, please don’t let go of that spark. What you have is a rare and powerful talent, a capacity for knowledge and learning that most don’t…and it also just so happens that you can grow this talent into an amazing, fulfilling and lucrative career.
I’m here to tell you from personal experience, technology is where it’s at. I get paid for my sense of wonder, to think, to be curious, to ask ‘why’, to figure out how things work and to solve problems. As a Systems Analyst, I don’t write a lot of code and I would never claim to be a programmer, but I could bust out a ‘hello world’ in just about any programming language if I needed to – and please trust me when I say how empowering that is. It’s not just about writing code…it’s about knowing that I have within me the ability to figure out how to do anything that I need to get done. Talk about a skill that is important in all areas of life!
In case you couldn’t tell, I love my job. It’s challenging, it’s rewarding, I have an incredibly flexible schedule and I’m not bound by geographic boundaries. I can work from any location on earth that has electricity and a connection to the Internet – although admittedly, my levels of patience and irritation on the job rise and fall in direct relation to the speed of that connection. I also have a lot of autonomy, which is really important to me (translation: no slave-driver type bosses breathing down my neck)…oh, and I make a lot of money. And I do mean a lot. Like top 15% according to salary distribution stats published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. I’m not sharing that in an egocentric, in-your-face kind of way; I want you to understand what the financial benefits are of STEM careers. It’s totally ok to be stoked about the financial rewards of a career in technology – I hereby grant you permission to daydream about fat-ass 401(k) balances, diversified investment portfolios, insurance coverage out the wazoo, making huge donations to your favorite non-profits…and if your vision of professional success includes a 7 series BMW, it’s yours, girlfriend!
True story: I have a colleague who is about my age with no kids…she’s a girl and a straight up programmer (I make a distinction between her job and mine because engineers easily earn 15-20% more than analysts…and I already mentioned that I bank). I allow myself a crush on her lifestyle – she has her own home, the most fabulous shoes and wardrobe, exotic vacations, and the sickest BMW I have ever laid my eyes on. Not hatin’ on her at all, and I don’t begrudge her any of these perfectly normal creature comforts. It’s quite the contrary – I am proud of her and what she has accomplished. The lesson to take away here is not about excess or materialism, the lesson is that all of these things are within your reach and I want you to know that in a very deep place in your heart.
I’m all about girl power…there’s just not nearly enough of it around the parts of fortune-100 & 500 companies that I tend to frequent. The buzz about STEM careers being typically dominated by men is very real and accurate. I am easily outnumbered 10 to 1 and I can’t recall a time when that wasn’t the norm in my career. I am a woman who understands the value of sisterhood, so the lack of females in my professional life is by far the biggest down side of my career choice…and I would love nothing more than for that landscape to change drastically.
So for all the girls out there who need this message…yes, I’m talking to you…embrace your inner nerd. Hold on to her and take good care of the geek that burns strong within you, for she possesses the skills and abilities to keep you safe, secure, fed, warm and comfortable. And is it knowing that you can meet your own needs in life and provide for yourself all that you need and desire that frees up your spirit to make a difference in this world.
You. Go. Girl.