Why so few women in tech? Seven challenges and potential solutions.

Anyone watching the Tech Crunch hackathon last September was reminded of the glaring problems women face when working in the technology, computer science, and start-up world. Two app developers demoed an app in which a user could take pictures of themselves staring at women’s breasts. The presentation itself was met with laughter and applause from the overwhelmingly male audience, but the larger tech world was appalled: the programmers and TechCrunch apologized, and TechCruch said it would start screening apps before the onstage pitch.

Women in the tech world began to speak up, and even some who maintained that they would stay out of gender issues started to chime in. “Making tech hospitable to women won't be easy but this much is clear: we do need to figure out how to get more women in the room,” wrote Elissa Shevinsky, CEO of Glimpse, in a Business Insider article.

In the past few years, a number of organizations have been striving to make the words “women” and “tech” refer to female accomplishments, rather than an issue of inequality. But they haven’t been without their anecdotal and institutional challenges. Here is a look at some of the roadblocks women face in these fields, and the organizations that are fighting to overcome these issues.

1. The amount of women graduating with computer science degrees has drastically decreased in the last three decades. One solution: Girls Who Code

Andrew Kelly/Reuters/File
Model Mackenzie Drazan of California does her high school calculus homework backstage at the Michael Kors Autumn/Winter 2013 collection during New York Fashion Week Feb. 13, 2013. The organization Girls Who Code is trying to interest teenage girls in careers in science and technology.

In middle school, 74 percent of girls express interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), but only 0.3 percent of high school girls select computer science as a potential college major.

In 1984, 37 percent of computer science graduates were women. Today, women represent 12 percent of all computer science graduates.

Women make up half the US workforce, but only 25 percent of jobs in technical or computing fields.

These three statistics scroll at the bottom of the Girls Who Code website, setting up the odds stacked against the nonprofit group. However, Girls Who Code has its eyes on the future: The US Department of Labor projects that by 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer specialist job openings, and Girls Who Code has set out to make sure that at least half of those go to women. In order to do so, it has developed a new model of computer science education that brings together robotics, web design, and mobile development with mentorship from women in these fields.

“I quickly learned everything from how to program robots in Python to how to build websites in HTML and video games in JavaScript,” says 15-year-old Julia Geist on the Girls Who Code website. “I met with female engineers from Google, Gilt Groupe, Twitter, and Stanford [University]. I worked at AppNexus, toured Google, Foursquare, Facebook, AT&T and began to envision a new future for myself. I fell in love with computer science—and not just because of the amazing opportunities it has afforded me.”

The last day of her program, she was offered a freelance coding job at Google.

Obviously, not every participant is guaranteed a job at a major technology company, but the nonprofit hopes that the programs will inspire women to try something that isn’t ordinarily pushed their way.

"In America, girls typically don't score as high in math and science as boys," says Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, to Oprah Magazine. "But in many other countries, that is not the case. I can still buy a pink T-shirt here that says 'Math Sucks’… If you give girls technology, how can they change the world?"

The group has summer programs in five cities plus coding clubs in four cities, with plans to develop further.

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