The social justice issues that rose to prominence in the United States in summer 2020 have further spotlighted this inequity. As a result, tech leaders are more determined than ever to change the culture of their industry. To do so, they’re using technology itself to reimagine and rebuild the talent pipeline in ways that encourage, support and guide more girls of color into STEM careers.
In particular, they’re counting on three strategies to help them achieve their objective: exposing more girls of color to STEM in the first place, recognizing industry bias and building long-term professional networks.
Organizations like Girls Who Code and Intel-backed Million Girls Moonshot – whose mission is engaging 1 million more girls in STEM learning opportunities through afterschool and summer programs over the next five years – are encouraging girls of color to see STEM as an accessible option from an early age.
Doing so is critical because girls often internalize failure in ways that keep them from pursuing STEM careers even when they enjoy them, suggests Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani.
“When the guys are struggling with an assignment [in an introductory coding class], they’ll come in and they’ll say, ‘Professor, there’s something wrong with my code,’” Saujani said in a 2016 TED Talk. “The girls will come in and say, ‘Professor, there’s something wrong with me.’”
Study after study shows girls excelling over boys in math and science until they reach middle school, at which point there is a sharp decline in female achievement that persists through college. Girls Who Code, Million Girls Moonshot and similar organizations believe they can reverse the female achievement gap by addressing the female confidence gap: By giving girls – especially girls of color – more opportunities to succeed in STEM early and often, they believe they can build competence, and that competence ultimately will breed confidence.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased obstacles for women of color in STEM, according to Girls Who Code COO Dr. Tarika Barrett.
“The fact is that nearly 40% of women with engineering degrees either quit soon after entering the field or they don’t end up entering the field at all,” she told CNBC in a June 2020 interview. “If you think specifically about this crisis … companies need to support women very differently.”
Increasingly common forms of support, for example, are remote working and flexible schedules, which make it easier for women to balance work with caregiving responsibilities at home.
The pandemic has normalized both of them – but not enough: In December 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the U.S. economy had shed 140,000 jobs nationwide. Most if not all of them belonged to women, CNN Business reported.
“I don’t think it’s a pipeline issue at all. That’s a copout,” said Nutanix Senior Vice President of Product and Solutions Marketing Monica Kumar.
“We have enough experience, even within STEM,” she said. “The issue is whether the skills we evaluate are skewed towards a certain persona.”