THE BLOG
09/29/2015 05:54 pm ET Updated Sep 29, 2016

Changing the Face of Technology - One Girl at a Time

Black Girls Code

Women today fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, yet they hold less than 25% of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) jobs . And according to the National Science Foundation, African American women make up only 2% of the country's science and engineering workforce. We're looking at a major and detrimental race and gender gap - a significant digital divide - that only threatens to keep growing. The American Association of University Women released a study earlier this year that found that just 26% of computing jobs were held by women in 2013, down from 35% in 1990. We cannot continue to go down this path. And by working together, we can change the face of technology - for good.

As a little girl growing up in the Deep South, my mother told me that my future lay in my education. And she was right. I loved school, was an exceptional student, and found a passion for math and science that led me to Vanderbilt University where I discovered the world of electrical engineering. I did well in college, loved the work I was doing and soon found myself climbing the corporate ladder after graduation. I was one of the lucky ones. But along the way I found that I was the only black person in most of my engineering classes, and often the only woman - leaving me with a profound sense of cultural isolation. This same startling lack of diversity was later just as abundantly clear in the boardroom as it was in the classroom.

Today, I'm a nerdy mom raising a geeky brown daughter. I never thought that the little girl who preferred Legos to Barbies and Gameboys to tea sets would actually one day decide to follow in my footsteps in engineering. Yet I was thrilled to discover her love for science and technology. She had unparalleled access to technology that I never experienced growing up. This excitement turned to frustration when I realized that she had no concept of technology as a tool and means for creation. Eager to help foster her newfound passions and give her a greater understanding of the opportunities that technology could provide, I sent her off to a tech-focused summer camp. But while the program succeeded in expanding her interest from just the games she liked to play to a curiosity about the design behind them, it also highlighted an issue I could no longer ignore. Similar to my own experience many years before her, Kai was the only person of color - boy or girl - in the entire program, and one of only a handful of girls participating.

I didn't want my daughter to feel culturally isolated in the pursuit of her studies, as I had as a young girl. I didn't want her to give up on her passions just because she didn't see anyone else like her in the classroom. My daughter, and other girls of color, needed an organization to help them grow and succeed in today's digitally-driven innovation economy. And so, Black Girls CODE was born.

Launched with only a small team of volunteers, 12 students and a whole lot of dreams in San Francisco in 2011, Black Girls CODE has since expanded to serve close to 8,000 students in cities across the US - with our newest chapter recently opened in Washington, D.C. this summer with supporters such as Capital One's Future Edge initiative. Our mission is simple: to introduce programming and technology to a new generation of coders in underrepresented communities so that they can be empowered to become the technological innovators of tomorrow. We want to give these young women opportunities not usually presented to them, enabling them to thrive in today's increasingly digital world, with the goal of teaching 1 million girls to code by the year 2040.

Women and girls are naturally agents of change. If we teach one girl to code, she will go on to teach more - we've seen this in our own programs and workshops around the country. And we know this expands beyond the individual: by giving these girls the skills they need to succeed, they can go on to change not just their own trajectory but the collective trajectories of the communities they represent.

If we want to succeed in changing the face of technology, we need to begin with inspiring young girls early on to pursue and develop an interest in computer engineering at a time when they're beginning to think about their futures so that they can embrace the current marketplace as both builders and creators. By exposing them early to opportunities in STEM, we're helping to put them on the path to succeed and empowering them to become the innovators, leaders and problem solvers of tomorrow.

Today, technology is perhaps the greatest economic equalizer. We inspire to have our work change the paths of the young women who participate in our programs and create a lasting impact in families and communities across the world. We plan to bring women and girls of color to the forefront of this growing innovation economy- one girl, one woman and one generation at a time.

Black Girls CODE's expansion into Washington, DC will provide girls of color with afterschool programs, weekend workshops, summer camps, field trips and other technologically-focused activities designed to introduce them to computer science and programming while teaching them in-demand digital skills. To learn about how you can get involved with Black Girls CODE and help expose young girls to opportunities in STEM, please visit http://www.blackgirlscode.com/join-us.html.