THE BLOG
07/05/2016 09:41 am ET Updated Jul 06, 2017

Get 'em While They're Young: The Hearts and Minds of Coding and Data Science

"We live in a culture where we're dissuaded to do things that are technical," says Diana Navarro, an 18-year-old Rutgers University computer science major. "Younger girls see men, not women, doing all the techie stuff, programming and computer science." So writes Martha Mendoza in The Washington Times.

Anecdotes are all too common these days, but what does the data say? Are these one-off stories or is the gender divide in STEM jobs real? (Read: those that require a science, technology, engineering, or math-related degree.)

Sadly, the statistics bear out these types of grim assertions. In point of fact, as a percentage, fewer people today are graduating with degrees in computer science. And it gets worse: this is happening precisely at the time that every company is becoming a tech company. For more eye-opening figures on the gender divide, see the infographic below:

And a coding revolution by itself won't be sufficient to ensure that women and minorities find meaningful work in the years to come. Coding and data are cousins, and data is becoming the lingua franca of the business world. Today's most successful companies are increasingly using data science and analytics run their businesses. For instance, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and other heavyweights are ramping up their recruiting efforts in data science. This fact isn't lost on prominent universities, many of which are upping their offerings. Case in point: SMU"s online master's in data science.

Advanced degrees will certainly help increase diversity in the workplace in tech- and data-oriented jobs, but make no mistake: they alone won't solve this problem. It's important to pique kids' interest while they are young.

More Help Is on the Way

Fortunately, help is on the way. Many in the tech elite recognize this problem and its partial solution: targeting kids at an early age and making coding and data cool. Luminaries such as Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos are sponsoring Code.org. Former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao recently started Project Include, an "open community working toward providing meaningful diversity and inclusion solutions for tech companies." PBS KIDS recently launched a free Scratchjr app that helps young children learn coding.

Overcoming and eliminating the gender divide won't happen overnight. Still, we've seen enough signs over the last few years to be more than a little optimistic.