June 29, 2016

Equal pay starts in middle school

There's a gender gap in technology, and the founder of Girls Who Code wants to change that

Photo courtesy of Girls Who Code

This essay first appeared on Medium.

A recent Glassdoor report showed the largest pay gap in the U.S. exists among computer programmers, with women making on average 71.7¢ to every dollar her male counterpart would make. The pay gap among programmers ranks slightly above chefs (71.9¢), dentists (71.9¢), and C-suite professionals (72.3¢), according to the report. As someone who is passionate about getting girls to pursue careers in computer science, these findings are disappointing. For years, jobs in computing were seen to have one of the smallest pay gaps in the country, one of the reasons being more flexible work hours inherent to the industry. Facebook and Microsoft just confirmed they pay men and women equally. Though there’s competing information about how big the pay gap in computer science is, we can all acknowledge it’s there and it’s a real issue. I applaud companies that have taken steps to actually do something about it. This year Salesforce invested $3 million in adjustments to employee salaries to make sure women and men are paid equally. Transparent salary policies are a step in the right direction, but they don’t address the many factors that contribute to this issue before a woman has landed her first job.

To close the pay gap, we need to address the barriers to getting top paying jobs much earlier. When you have a disproportionate amount of men at the top making salary and promotion decisions, there’s a far greater chance you’ll see unequal salary and promotion policies in the organization. Addressing the issue in the workplace helps, but if we really want to fix it we need to start in middle school.

We still live in a world where math and science are "for boys." Girls are picking up on these messages and are opting out at a very young age.

Girls Who Code was founded in 2012 to close the gender gap in computer science. To see how we could intervene programmatically, we first had to figure out where and why these drop-offs were happening. What we discovered was the gender gap in computing doesn’t start when a woman lands her first job or when she goes off to college—it starts in middle school. Poor media portrayals and a lack of role models are largely to blame for this. If you need an example of why, just turn on any show portraying computer scientists and you will typically see a nerdy guy in a hoodie, typing away in a basement. We still live in a world where math and science are “for boys.” Girls are picking up on these messages and are opting out at a very young age.

Girls Who Code addresses these barriers by offering year-round programming for girls ages 13-17 through our Clubs and Summer Immersion programs. We teach girls-first project-based computer science curriculum in a highly collaborative environment. We foster a sense of sisterhood amongst the girls and introduce them to mentors working in positions they aspire to be in.

By the end of this year we’ll have taught more than 40,000 girls in every state across the U.S. That’s four times the number of women currently graduating with a degree in computer science. My hope is that by the time our girls enter the workforce they will not only feel equipped for a job but prepared for a career in a traditionally male-dominated field. Addressing the gap early on in a woman’s life is the key to prepare her for equal opportunities in her field.

Top photo by Flickr user Michael 1952

Reshma Saujani

Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code

Reshma Saujani is the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code and author of "Women Who Don't Wait in Line." While running for Congress in 2010, Saujani visited computer science classrooms around New York City and walked away with the same question: where are the girls? In 2012 she founded Girls Who Code with 20 students. At the end of this year, the organization will have served more than 40,000 girls in all 50 states.