WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Demand for computer scientists is high and continues to grow in the U.S. and globally. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has projected that by 2026, computer science jobs will have grown by 19%. Although many colleges are working hard to produce computer science graduates who can fill those jobs, relatively few of these graduates -- 18% -- are women, resulting in a workforce that lacks the benefits from gender diversity -- critical innovation and growth.
Many colleges are attempting to address this gender inequity through scholarships and programming designed to encourage women to pursue a degree in computer science (CS). Although these programs are critical to women's entry into the field, postsecondary institutions can only do so much. The promise of a more equitable workforce can only be realized if students are given exposure and access to high-quality CS education at the K-12 level. Here are the five most important things educators and policymakers need to know about increasing girls' interest and engagement in CS education:
- Just 15% of girls are enrolled in classes where only CS is taught, compared with 27% of boys.
- Adults encourage young boys more often than they encourage girls to pursue a career in CS. About half of boys report that an adult in their life has encouraged them to pursue a career in CS, compared with just 37% of girls.
Young girls are less confident in their ability to learn computer science than boys. Although ability is equal across genders, young women are less confident they can learn computer science, which undoubtedly impacts their willingness to explore CS and enroll in CS courses. Thirty percent of girls feel very confident they could be successful in learning computer science if they wanted to, compared with 41% of boys.
Girls are less likely to think CS is important for them to learn. About a third (31%) of girls in grades 7-12, compared with 49% of boys in these grades, say it is important for them to learn computer science.
Parents of boys are slightly more likely than parents of girls to report it will be important for their children to know computer science for their career someday. Twenty-nine percent of parents of girls report it is very likely their children will need to learn computer science for their career, compared with 36% of parents of boys.
These results are based on the most recent Google-Gallup study of students, parents, teachers, principals and administrators conducted in January and February 2020.
After a particularly challenging year in K-12 schools nationally, education leaders cannot lose focus on the importance of providing all students access to high-quality computer science education. When young girls lack exposure to CS at an early age, they miss out on a series of potential career paths long-term, only furthering inequities in economic opportunity for women who miss out on these higher-paying jobs. This women's history month, it is critical to recognize some of the barriers that keep so many young women from choosing computer science as a pathway, which leaves the computer science workforce lacking the diversity it needs -- self-efficacy, adult influence, and access to the field. It is only through this understanding that leaders, educators and families can close the equity gaps that exist in this highly rewarding and growing field.