July 27, 2015; Makers.com
According to the documentary Code: Debugging the Gender Gap, by the year 2020 there will be 1.4 million jobs in “computing-related fields.” Of those jobs, less than 29 percent will be filled by Americans, and of those Americans, less than three percent will be women. In March, the Huffington Post’s Emily Peck reported that even in the most prominent IT companies, the statistics are shocking. At Google, women make up 30 percent of the company’s overall workforce, but hold only 17 percent of the company’s tech jobs. At Facebook, women staff 15 percent of tech roles; at Twitter, it’s a shocking 10 percent.
The sad truth, though, is that today, even when women get tech jobs, it’s difficult for them to stay there. Tracey Lien writes for the Los Angeles Times that qualified women are abandoning the tech industry in droves. Sexism in the workplace has led to fewer opportunities for women to advance and often creates hostile environments, causing women to feel that it’s just not worth it.
Thankfully, nonprofit organizations and companies are designing programs to ensure that women have equal opportunity in technology companies. Girl Develop It, for example, is working to create judgment-free opportunities for women interested in learning web and software development.
Sara Chipps, developer and co-founder of Girl Develop It, along with her partners Brooke Moreland and Maria Paula Saba founded Jewelbots, a wearable technology startup whose intention is to encourage “tweens” to learn to code while having a lot of fun with their friends. The company created the Jewelbots app and bracelet, dubbed “smart jewelry for a smarter generation.”
The bracelet is not as sophisticated as an Apple Watch or a Fitbit, but the Jewelbot could become revolutionary in its own way, as it gives girls the opportunity to be innovators. At first glance, this wristlet appears to be just an elastic bracelet with a semi-translucent plastic flower charm. But this seemingly simple piece of jewelry allows young people to program theirs to communicate with their friends through Bluetooth. The user can use the charm to program it to assign a friend one of eight. That color lights up when the friend is nearby. Imagine the flashing rainbows of colors when groups get together!
The charm, which doubles as a button, is coded to send secret Morse code messages to friends in the same color groups. That’s just the beginning of what the app can do. As its wearers learn the basics of coding, they can access open source Arduino software that will enable them to, for example, program their bangles to set up Instagram notifications, receive weather updates, and send text messages.
Chipps contends, “This whole thing has been a quest to find something that girls love so much, and give them the opportunity to customize it if they want to. They don’t have to, but the hypothesis is, they’ll teach themselves and create community around it.”
This startup required funding to get it off the ground, so it approached Kickstarter. Jewelbots far exceeded its original goal of $30,000, raising a total of $166,945 USD with 1,820 backers. The project was launched on July 8th, and investors can expect to receive their bracelets in March 2016.
Reshma Saujani, author of Women Who Don’t Wait in Line, is the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code and the former Deputy Public Advocate of New York City. She is spearheading a movement to close the gender gap in STEM education by enlisting industry leaders to work to empower girls to pursue careers those fields. Saujani seeks gender parity, but also equality for minority women in the field, an issue that is amplified by the problem of access for poor minority girls who can’t afford the technology that would enable them to achieve that equality.
Saujani says, “Teach one girl to code, and she will teach three others.”
There is strength in numbers. If those nonprofit organizations with missions to close the gap are successful, in 2020, we will see more women of all ethnicities working in environments that support their equal value.—G. Meredith Betz and Debbie Laskey