Tech Just for Girls
The Bay Area may be home to some of the most high-profile women in technology companies – from Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg to Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer – but women remain woefully under-represented in tech fields. They make up half the U.S. workforce but hold only 25 percent of the jobs in technical or computing fields, and only 12 percent of engineers are women.
Shying away from an interest in science, technology, engineering and math can start early. In a 2012 study by the Girl Scouts Research Institute, 57 percent of girls said they wouldn’t typically consider a career in S.T.E.M. According to Girls Who Code, just .4 percent of high school girls say they’ll major in computer science. The percentage of computer science graduates who are women has actually dropped to 18 percent from 37 percent in 1984.
A growing number of organizations hope to change that, by offering S.T.E.M. programs just for girls.
“Because computer science and math and science careers are so male-dominated, girls are blatantly under-represented. It’s more common for boys to be tinkering with computers from 8 years old,” says Natalie Bonifede, the San Francisco-based director of programs for Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit working to close the gender gap in technology and engineering fields. “Girls feel innately bad at it and don’t see people who look like them or have the same interests. They self-select out.”
Girls Who Code has 100 free coding clubs in the Bay Area for girls in middle and high school – and 450 nationwide – offered through schools, libraries and other locations, as well as a free seven-week summer immersion program for high school sophomore and junior girls offered at 18 different Bay Area companies this summer.
“There’s a lot of research showing girls thrive in a single-sex environment. …
We want girls to be able to see other people who look like them doing cool things in the industry,” says Bonifede. “You don’t have to be a computer science engineer. We show them how a technical education can help with anything.”
“The most stark thing I have seen throughout the years is girls emerging as a totally different person. They never knew that this was for them … and that they could find it incredibly engaging and creative. They find this community of women doing cool things, who are ready to support them and share their love of tech,” she adds.
Here’s a sampling of tech programs just for girls in the Bay Area:
Alexa Café – iD Tech offers this all-girl summer program for ages 10-15, with specialties including coding, video production, photography and web design, and more. Locations in San Jose, Palo Alto, San Francisco and Berkeley. www.idtech.com/alexa-cafe/.
Black Girls Code – Founded in 2011, this Bay Area-based organization introduces girls of color from ages 7-17 to coding, robotics and S.T.E.M. fields through workshops, “hackathons” and more. www.blackgirlscode.com.
Education Unlimited – Offers summer science camps at UC Berkeley and Stanford for girls entering fourth through ninth grades, with topics including marine science and biology, engineering, astronomy and neuroanatomy. Day and overnight camps are available. educationunlimited.com/camp/75/science-and-engineering-camps.html.
Expanding Your Horizons Network – This nonprofit organizes conferences throughout the country, often on college campuses, to introduce girls to S.T.E.M. careers and mentors. The Berkeley chapter’s conference, for girls in fifth through eighth grades, will be held March 12. It includes sessions for girls and parents. www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~eyh/. A conference for girls in sixth through 12th grades will be held at Skyline College in San Bruno, also on March 12. skylinecollege.edu/eyh/. www.eyhn.org.
Girls on the Mic – A program of Women’s Audio Mission, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that aims to increase women in music production, Girls on the Mic works with Bay Area middle schools and community organizations to provide girls ages 8-18 with mentors and sound-recording technology to facilitate small-scale recording projects. www.womensaudiomission.org.
Girls Who Code – Offers free weekly computer science clubs for middle and high school girls and a free seven-week summer intensive, located at companies and universities, for rising high school juniors and seniors with hands-on learning in computing, robotics, app development, web design and more. Need-based scholarships are available for summer job income replacement and travel costs. Applications are due March 1. girlswhocode.com.
Play-Well Teknologies – This LEGO-based engineering program, operating in 23 states, offers a summer camp just for girls ages 5 to 9, “Girl Powered Engineering Using LEGOs,” at multiple Bay Area locations. Taught by women engineers and scientists, the camp aims to provide a supportive environment for girls to design and build projects from bridges to mazes. play-well.org.
Rosie’s Girls – Offers a three-week summer day camp with a
“girl-centered environment” and hands-on exploration of S.T.E.M. activities and skilled trades. Held at the Rosie the Riveter Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond. rosiesgirls.org.
Technovation Challenge – A global technology program in which teams of middle and high school girls, led by a volunteer mentor, come up with an app idea, conduct market research, create a business plan and build an app prototype that is judged by leaders from technology and business sectors. There are two divisions, for ages 14 and under and 14-19. This year, finalists will pitch their idea at World Pitch in San Francisco, and one winner in each division will win $10,000 in seed funding. Technovation is a program of Iridescent, a S.T.E.M. education nonprofit. www.technovationchallenge.org.