Morgane Richer La Flèche was the Canadian delegate last week to the annual G(irls)20 Summit in Moscow. She lives in Montreal, and is on Twitter at @MogiTalks.
Every year, the G(irls)20 Summit brings together one delegate from each G20 country to discuss the growth of communities, countries, and companies through the economic empowerment of girls and women worldwide, and present solutions to G20 leaders. One of the key areas of focus of this year's Girls20 Summit in Moscow was the importance of technology, as both a sector with explosive job opportunities and as an invaluable tool for driving social change.
While women make up a majority of tech-product users, they comprise only a small minority of computer-science graduates and professional programmers. In Canada, we are at a crucial crossroads in ensuring that women are not left out of one of the fastest growing sectors, technology.
Why should we care about the presence of women in tech? On the grand scale, our global competitiveness increasingly depends on technology, and many employers in the tech world – such as Google – have recognized the importance of workplace diversity in driving innovation. From the perspective of women, the tech sector offers fast job growth and high wages. The persistence of gendered income inequality in Canada is not only caused by education level or institutional bias; it is also due to women's choice of occupation. Getting women in tech is one small way of closing the income gap.
Understanding why women are opting out of careers in tech is the first step in increasing their participation. When I asked Aliza Sherman, founder of Cybergrrl, Inc. and one of the Summit speakers, about the absence of women in tech, she highlighted the distressing fact that we have been asking this same question since the early 90s, while observing almost no change in the reality of women in technology-related fields. While gender stereotypes, external pressures, and lack of exposure deter girls from tech, Ms. Sherman suggested that the absence of female role models and mentors was also a serious issue. We also spoke to Ann Mei Chang, who serves as Senior Advisor for Women and Technology at the U.S. Department of State. Ms. Chang pointed to the structure of computer science education, claiming it favors a male way of thinking and calling for gender-specific approaches adapted to the interests of girls.
While social profit initiatives such as Kids Code Jeunesse are working to spread the word on the importance of learning how to program, Canada needs government recognition of the issue. We need to integrate computer coding into elementary-school education across Canada, and make technology a central component of the curriculum. In the meantime, girls should empower themselves by learning how to code through the myriad of free courses available online.
The ubiquity of technology in every aspect of our lives should be proof enough that learning how to operate and program computers is an increasingly vital skill in today's rapidly evolving workplace. Coding is one of the most valuable skills a girl – or indeed, anyone – can learn. Why aren't we teaching it?