Natalie Robehmed, Forbes Staff 8/30/2013 @ 12:39 PM
With 1.4 million computing job openingsexpected in the U.S. by 2020, doesn’t it seem like a good idea to teach our children to code? That’s the reasoning behind Black Girls Code, a nonprofit dedicated to educating African American females in all things tech.
Founded by Kimberly Bryant in 2011, Black Girls Code teaches children aged 7-17, with courses covering computer programming, coding, and everything needed to learn how to build websites, robots, and mobile applications.
An electrical engineer who worked in biotech, Bryant was originally looking to found a startup. She noticed there were not many people of color in the tech industry and decided to do something about it.
“My daughter was 12 and interested in technology but more into gaming,” said Bryant, who was recently honored at the White House as aChampion of Change for her work with Black Girls Code. “I was looking for an opportunity for her to learn some skills.”
Black Girls Code has now reached almost 2,000 students with seven chapters spread across the U.S. and South Africa. Most classes are day-long events, with the charity running six-week courses during the summer. The nonprofit charges a small amount for classes, with 75% of students receiving scholarships. It relies on teachers who work in tech, and currently has 600 volunteers on its roster.
As well as teaching the girls valuable technical skills, Bryant said the courses often have positive effects on a child’s academic performance.
“We see some improvements in their studies, too,” explained Bryant. “Having this extracurricular activity helps them in computational thinking.”
Hispanic and African American women are the fastest growing entrepreneurial segments in the country, according to a report by the Center for Women’s Business Research. They currently make up more than two million of roughly eight million women-owned businesses in the U.S. Yet the tech outlook is bleak: Women made up a quarter of the computing workforce in 2012, and African American women held just 3% of all tech jobs.
“Jobs in technology have the rapidest rate of growth,” said Bryant. “The need for computer science is so incredibly large and it’s important that girls of all colors have the opportunity to move into that field.”
The program is one of a series of initiatives attempting to get more girls involved in tech. Girls Who Code, a nonprofit founded by Reshma Saujani, aims to close the gender gap in technology and engineering sectors. Its website explains:
To reach gender parity by 2020, women must fill half of these [1.4 million] positions, or 700,000 computing jobs. Anecdotal data tells us that an average of 30% of those students with exposure to computer science will continue in the field. This means that 4.6M adolescent girls will require some form of exposure to computer science education to realize gender parity in 2020. Girls Who Code has set out to reach 25% of those young women needed to realize gender parity.
Other groups like Girl Develop It and Ladies Learning Code aim to educate women, while sites such as Code Academy and Ruby on Rails provide free online courses for all.
According to 2012 figures, women in tech make up just 5% of the founders and chief executives of tech start-ups, comprising 11% of tech investors. Here’s hoping the wonderful work of organisations like Black Girls Code can help even out the coding field.