Snapchat works to bring low-income women into tech

Snapchat is helping to fund computer programming classes for low-income women at St. Joseph Center, a service agency in Venice, Calif. 

Ann Hermes/Staff/File
A coding class at The Young Women's Leadership School of Astoria in Astoria, N.Y. The all-girls STEM-focused public school was established in 2006.

Snapchat has recently joined the trend to help women get into tech by helping to fund programming classes for low-income women at St. Joseph Center, a service agency in Venice, Calif., nearby the five-year-old startup's offices.

Tech startups are sometimes known for buying up real estate and shifting community demographics, and Snapchat is no exception. It often carries the blame for changing its Venice community: gentrifying the neighborhood, driving up rents, and displacing those who have lived in the gritty seaside town for decades.

But some local groups such as St. Joseph Center, Safe Place for Youth, and Grand View Boulevard Elementary saw the influx of Snapchat techies into Venice as an opportunity. Over the past three years, the company has supported the arts, built showers for Safe Place for Youth, and sought to help with homelessness and income disparity, according to these groups. This year Snapchat, which is funded by $1.4 billion in venture capital and tens of millions in ad revenues and in-app sales, has allocated more than $500,000 to community service.

"We live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth and everyone wants to be here," Alison Hurst, the executive director of Safe Place for Youth, told the Los Angeles Times. "If you get to be in this awesome place, you have to give back."

Like Snapchat, a number of groups support girls and low-income women who want to code, aiming to change the role of women in tech. Women comprise only about a quarter of the tech workforce, and in the past 30 years, the number of women has declined from about 37 percent of computer science graduates to 18 percent today.

A program called Technovation at Immaculate Conception Academy in San Francisco aims to counter social norms that keep girls from entering careers in STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math. Girls Who Code, a boot camp for high school girls around the country, also aims to increase female participation in the tech industry. And at the Young Women's Leadership School of Astoria in New York City, girls learn about computer technology in an elective called Tech Crew.

For adults, as well, groups such as Monarq stage all-female hackathons to encourage women to enter tech fields. The issue, however isn't only getting women into tech, but keeping them there. Within 10 years of working in tech, 41 percent of women leave the field (compared with 17 percent of men), and within 20 years, 56 percent of women leave, according to the Village Voice. 

"There needs to be a focus not just on recruiting, but retaining and advancing," Elizabeth Ames, vice president of strategic marketing at the Anita Borg Institute, told The Christian Science Monitor.

"If your engineering team is made up of one type of person, the products you build are not relevant to all types of people," Adam Enbar, chief executive officer of the Flatiron coding school in New York, told the Village Voice. "There are significant competitive advantages for companies that are more diverse." A 2014 survey conducted by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found that companies that have a balanced ratio of women and men do better than their counterparts, as the Monitor reported. 

At this point in time, Snapchat's biggest charity investment is about $250,000 to St. Joseph Center. Codetalk, the Center's biggest program, offers a 15-week course three times a year to provide low-income women tech skills good enough to earn them entry-level jobs coding websites. Each student also gets a MacBook to keep during and after the class.

"We knew there was potential for [Snapchat] to see the good in it," Va Lecia Adams Kellum, the executive director of St. Joseph Center, told the LA Times. "We didn't know you were going to love it."

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