Women in computing to decline to 22% by 2025, study warns

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Women in computing to decline to 22% by 2025, study warns

Research from Accenture and Girls Who Code recommends immediate steps to boost women studying computer science.

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Women in computing to decline to 22% by 2025, study warns

Jessica Guynn , USA TODAY 7:03 a.m. EDT October 20, 2016
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Bryanna Gilges, then 15, left, and Yvonne Gonzalez, then 17, right, work at completing an exercise during a Girls Who Code class at Adobe Systems in San Jose, Calif. in 2014.(Photo: Eric Risberg, Associated Press)

SAN FRANCISCO — New research warns that the number of women in the computing workforce will decline to 22% from 24% by 2025 if nothing is done to encourage more of them to study computer science.

The research from Accenture and nonprofit group Girls Who Code says taking steps now to encourage more women to pursue a computer science education could triple the number of women in computing to 3.9 million in that same timeframe.

Women account for 24% of computing jobs today, but could account for 39% by 2025, according to Cracking the Gender Code. And greater numbers of women entering computer science could boost women's cumulative earnings by $299 billion and help the U.S. fill the growing demand for computing talent, said Julie Sweet, Accenture's group chief executive for North America.

"The solution starts with education — we need to develop more tailored programs that appeal to girls’ interests, and take a more targeted and sequenced approach to encourage girls to pursue (computer science) related learning at each stage of their education," Sweet said.

The research was released during the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Technology, a conference put on by the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology in partnership with the Association for Computing Machinery. More than 15,000 people are expected to attend the three-day event that encourages the participation of women in computing.

"The research shows that the gender gap in computing is getting worse, not better," said Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code.

Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani, right, Facebook

Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani, right, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, middle, and Eva Cole, a graduate of Girls Who Code. Cole lead a Q&A session with Saujani and Sandberg for 160 girls from the Bay Area taking part in Girls Who Code's summer program in 2014. (Photo: Facebook)

The share of women in the computing workforce has slipped to 24% today from 37% in 1995. Silicon Valley is a stark illustration of the growing gender gap in high tech. At major companies here, men account for 70% of employees.

"In the last few years, we’ve seen unprecedented momentum and attention behind universal computer science education. You would think that all this attention would translate into progress toward closing the gender gap. But it hasn’t," Saujani said.

Girls graduate high school on par with boys in math and science, but boys are more likely to pursue engineering and computing degrees in college. That disparity only grows at the graduate level and in the workforce where women are dramatically underrepresented in engineering and computing. Even those women who technical careers drop out at much higher rates than men.

Saujani advocates early intervention to get women on a career path into these high-paying careers.

"We need programs designed specifically to spark and sustain girls interest — and we need to start in middle school, where there are few options but lots of potential to spark girls' interest," she said. "Today’s middle school girls have the potential to fill 1.6 million extra computing positions by 2025 — twice the potential of high school and college girls combined."

That sentiment is echoed by women tech leaders. "We need programs explicitly about girls coding," Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg told USA TODAY in 2014 after meeting with Bay Area teens taking part in Girls Who Code. "We need to flip the switch."

That's exactly what the research from Accenture and Girls Who Code advocates after surveying girls aged 12-18, college students and key influencers to gauge their interest in computer at each stage of their education.

The result: Researchers identified steps they say could reverse the decline of women in technology.

- Parents and teachers can generate interest in junior high by showing girls that computing is fun and not just for boys. The research recommends hands-on experience with computer games designed for girls.

- Sustain interest in high school by sending girls to summer camps where they study computer science with other girls. The research found that 81% of high school girls who studied computing over the summer were interested in studying it at college, versus 52% who only studied computing at school.

- Inspire women to pursue computing after college, even if they don't major in it in college. For example, offer all college undergraduate students, not just tech majors, on campus and summer immersion programs in computing and coding. The research found that more than half the women working in computing didn't major in computer science in college.

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