The U.S Department of Labor predicts that the country will add 1.2 million tech-related jobs by 2022. However, you don't need hard data to tell you that all facets of the burgeoning economy will be touched by tech. Technological literacy is already essential for many jobs and that number is only growing.
As the future of work moves inexorably towards tech, it is shocking and troubling to see just how underrepresented women are in the tech world. Mirroring trends present pretty much industry-wide, Apple's recently released diversity report shows that women represent just 30 percent of its employees. This is (depressingly) 10 percent better than the tech sector as a whole.
What can explain this?
The data seems to suggest that while the problem manifests itself in the workplace at startups and large organizations, it begins much earlier on. According to a study by the Girl Scouts of America, only 13 percent of girls say a STEM-related career would interest them.
This lack of interest only seems to intensify as time goes on. According to a survey of high school students by the ACM, 47 percent of girls considered a career in computers a "bad choice" for them, compared to the 38 percent of boys who thought it would be a "good choice." The same study found that girls associated programming with words like "boredom" and "nerd," while boys picked "interesting" and "problem solving."
It's not like this aversion to coding is innate. The first programmer ever was the brilliant Ada Lovelace, who basically invented the profession to take advantage of Charles Babbage's proto-computer. Rather, it appears that this difference in perception has to do with culture and education.
Close your eyes and picture a developer. Chances are you pictured a gangly, socially awkward guy in a hoodie. This is the image that has long been perpetuated by popular culture.
Girls who might otherwise be interested in computer science may not want to be in a profession they see as "nerdy". In addition, many educators might place disproportionate focus fostering talent in those who appear to be "stereotypical programmers," while not devoting as much attention to those outside this narrow mold (i.e. girls).
These combined forces may seem benign but they combine to create an environment where girls are discouraged from pursuing programming at an early age.
So what can we do?
Luckily, many have already realized there is an issue here and have begun developing programs to help reverse this trend. Initiatives like Girls Who Code have already started to gain traction, and in June Google donated $50 Million to the Made With Code project.
While initiatives like these are certainly important, in order to inspire real change there must be recognition and response on an institutional and educational level. In a recent interview with Business Insider, Sheryl Sandberg put it much better than I can.
At the broadest level, we are not going to fix the numbers for under-representation in technology or any industry until we fix our education system and until we fix the stereotypes about women and minorities in math and science.
It's our duty as entrepreneurs to help foster an interest in technology in women and other underrepresented groups at an early age by actively engaging with local communities groups, schools and educational institutions and established organizations that are directly taking on the problem like Girls Who Code or Black Girls Code.