What do SpaceX, a commercial leader in the aerospace world, and LELO, a European sex-toy company, have in common? They’re both pioneers in the tech world and simultaneously changing our lives in more ways than one. Just Tech-ing In will discuss socially and technologically relevant topics like forthcoming innovations, tech controversies, women in STEM and university updates on Tandon projects and startups.
“Just because you have a vagina, doesn’t mean you get to steal jobs from qualified men,” a male peer said to me. I stood, mortified by what he had just said to me. It’s one of those things that seems so outlandish, you have a hard time believing it’s humanly possible to be that ignorant.
At the beginning of the semester, Girls Who Code, an organization whose goal is to support and grow the number of women in computer science, reached out to me about starting a Girls Who Code club at NYU. Two weeks ago, as I sat preparing for my interview to get the club recognized by the university, I was approached by a senior who was also a Mechanical Engineering major. When he asked what I was up to, I explained the club to him and was met with anger.
“You know what? All of these ‘girls who code’ organizations are garbage,’” he said. “You can’t just force a woman into STEM and feed her this crap that she’s better than a man.” He added that women shouldn’t feel entitled to jobs in STEM on the basis that they are females. He clearly failed to realize that while Girls Who Code encourages girls to learn computer science, it isn’t a way of forcing women to pursue careers in STEM, nor is the movement stealing jobs from men. As if anything could ever steal jobs from men.
The Girls Who Code movement provides women the opportunity to pursue professions in computer science by creating an empowering environment where girls can build their confidence, and their skills. Computer science has always been male-dominated, with only 18 percent of undergraduate computer and information sciences degrees earned by women. The disparity between the number of men and women in the field is in part due to the fact that girls don’t get exposed to computer science like boys do. Because of gender stereotypes that deem STEM as a suitable field for men but not women, girls may not even consider careers in STEM as valid options.
It’s because of Girls Who Code that I’m currently pursuing an engineering degree, a path that I had never contemplated before. I had my first interaction with computer science during my junior year of high school when I participated in the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program at Goldman Sachs. There, I spent the summer learning web development, Python and robotics. My experience, however, is very different from that of my male friends at Tandon, most of whom were exposed to computer science during middle school or earlier. This disparity is an issue plaguing girls across the country and movements like Girls Who Code — reaching nearly 90,000 girls in the United States — are the reason why we will soon see more of an increase in the number of women entering these fields. These programs close the gap by introducing girls to computer science in high school or earlier.
Beyond offering opportunity, Girls Who Code is also a community that supports women in their pursuit of careers in the field. Once in the field, women tend to endure sexual harassment and alienation, since women commonly experience feelings of incompetence at work. Since changing the attitudes of individuals in the workplace requires an upheaval of the status quo, a supportive community is a great start to overcoming these attitudes.
Through community, women can access networks of professional connections that would offer many advantages including industry knowledge, resources and most importantly, support. The Girls Who Code alumnae Facebook group has over 2,000 members. These members constantly share internship opportunities, create spaces for discussion and share their personal experiences with each other. With matched mentorships during the program as well as direct access to Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, the organization is invaluable to the success of women as a marginalized group in the field.
Unlike what my peer thought, Girls Who Code is not an affirmative action initiative forcing women into the field. It is, instead, an organization home to a community of women aspiring for careers in computer science that provides the toolkit necessary for their success. Women and men are equally competent, and yet women remain as an underrepresented group in the field. Negative perspectives on programs like Girls Who Code inaccurately paint women in STEM as an angry group looking to take advantage of the system. This false narrative needs to end. For technology to continue growing and evolving, the many gaps between technology, science and marginalized groups need to be closed shut.
Serena Vanchiro is a junior studying Mechanical Engineering at Tandon School of Engineering.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.
Email Serena at [email protected]