Posted: 4 Min Read Corporate Responsibility

Celebrating Efforts to Close the Gender Gap in Tech

December brings Hour of Code, Cyber Security STEMpacks, and Grace Hopper’s Birthday

Today, fewer than 20 percent of Computer Science graduates are women and only 25 percent of computer scientists are women (down from 37% in 1995). [1} The numbers are especially low for black women, who make up 1 percent of the engineering workforce and 3 percent of the computing workforce, and Hispanic women, who hold just 1 percent of jobs in each field. [2}]

The representation of women in engineering and technology matters. Diversity in the workforce contributes to creativity and productivity, and diverse experiences and perspectives are needed to guide the direction of innovation. In less than 10 years, the United States alone will need 1.7 million more engineers and computing professionals, [3] and if we continue on our current trajectory, in that same time period the number of women in computing will decrease to just 22%. [4]

While interest in computer science ebbs over time, according to Girls Who Code, a Symantec partner that works to close the gender gap in technology, the biggest drop off happens between the ages of 13-17.

Numerous studies have been done to assess why girls leave STEM, and the answers are complex and include many factors. A 2017 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that stereotypes, biases, and values, contributed to women feeling as if they didn’t belong in engineering and computing fields.

According to Adriana D. Kugler, one of the co-authors of the study and a professor at Georgetown, “Society keeps telling us that STEM fields are masculine fields, that we need to increase the participation of women in STEM fields, but that kind of sends a signal that it’s not a field for women, and it kind of works against keeping women in these fields.” [5] Other researchers point to girls in middle and high school battling with untrue notions like girls can’t do math, there are no “cool” women in science, and that there are no women in engineering.[6]

All of these studies focus on the need for outreach and learning opportunities to combat false notions and get girls and young women, as well as their teachers and families, interested and excited about STEM and technology careers. Organizations like the American Association of University Women (AAUW), a Symantec partner and leader in efforts to promote women in STEM, are developing programs to specifically reach middle school students.

AAUW Tech Trek campers show off their Cyber Scribbles coloring books
AAUW Tech Trek campers show off their Cyber Scribbles coloring books

AAUW has inspired hundreds of thousands of girls to pursue science and math and helped thousands of women become scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. Symantec and AAUW recently announced the launch of the STEMpack: Cyber Security curriculum for middle-school girls. A total of four lessons across five days of instruction and activity, this curriculum is designed to inspire and introduce participants to cyber security and computer science, and ensures we’re empowering a diverse next generation of cyber security talent.

According to Kim Churches, AAUW’s CEO, “AAUW is proud to be working with Symantec to introduce middle school girls to the world of cyber security. Jobs in that industry are typically well paying and stable, making them ideal career choices for men and women. Unfortunately, with women currently comprising just 25% of the computing workforce, significant change needs to happen to achieve gender equity and fill the projected void in our country’s future tech workforce. Partnerships between AAUW and industry leaders such as Symantec demonstrate a serious commitment to creating positive outcomes.”

Symantec and AAUW also developed a Cyber Scribbles coloring book full of engaging computer science activities, which includes Grace Hopper, the grandmother of the computer age, whose birthday is December 9.

Above: Watch AAUW’s video and learn more about STEMpacks
Above: Watch AAUW’s video and learn more about STEMpacks

December is a great time to celebrate efforts geared towards closing the gender gap in technology. AAUW’s cyber security STEMpack was launched as part of Computer Science Education Week, organized by Symantec-grant recipient Code.org. This week is dedicated to inspiring K-12 students to take an interest in computer science. Held last week, December 4-10, Computer Science Education Week has grown and is now supported by 350 partners and 100,000 educators across the globe.

The Hour of Code, a key part of Computer Science Education Week, is a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify code and show that anybody can learn the basics. This global movement reaches tens of millions of students with diverse backgrounds in more than 180 countries.

Jeff Marsh, Web Development Manager at Symantec runs an Hour of Code at Santa Cruz Gardens elementary school. Photo credit: @MrsKLeRoux
Jeff Marsh, Web Development Manager at Symantec runs an Hour of Code at Santa Cruz Gardens elementary school. Photo credit: @MrsKLeRoux

Symantec is deeply committed to qualified and diverse STEM talent. Through education, mentorship, volunteering, and partnering with leading STEM advocates, we hope to change the status quo, close the gender and diversity gap in STEM, and build a robust talent pipeline. Symantec employees across the globe took part in Hour of Code. In Massachusetts, employees Kelly Burns and Valentina Kalatcheva hosted an information session at Burlington High School, while Jeff Marsh taught elementary students to code in Santa Cruz, California.

In Japan, the CSR team partnered with Code for Everyone and offered an hour of code for elementary students across the country. Symantec also led a seminar for more than 70 parents, who heard about net security from Norton Senior Manager Hiroshi Furuya.

Thanks to our work with AAUW and efforts like Hour of Code, we passed our goal to excite, engage, and educate one million students in STEM in FY17. We look forward to the work ahead and hope to inspire even more young females to realize the opportunities in STEM and pursue their passions in the future.

[1] Girls Who Code

[2] AAUW

[3] AAUW

[4] Girls Who Code

[5] National Bureau of Economic Research

[6] Huffington Post

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