After going public with its dismal, if unsurprising, diversity record, Google put its money where its mouth is last week when it launched a $50 million initiative to get women in coding. As it stands, only 17% of Google’s tech jobs a la software coding and engineering variety go to women employees, but the company intends to offset Silicon Valley’s lady deficit by cultivating interest in coding among women.
The company kicked off its Made With Code initiative by hosting 150 high school-aged girls at an event in New York City and rolling out madewithcode.com, an interactive website aimed at getting young girls to try their hand at coding. The site features some projects, one of which lets users design a personalized bracelet using the visual programming editor Blockly. As a twenty-something microbiologist who knew full well that this project was primarily meant for tween and teen prospective coder girls, naturally, I had to try it. The Blockly interface was a little yawn-inspiring—I imagine even for a 12-year-old—but giving girls access to some purposeful computer science is a net-good. As a friend interested in coding pointed out to me, “It’s meant to teach you the logical flow of coding, before you get into syntax.” Plus, Google partnered with New York-based company Shapeways to ship users their 3D-printed bracelet for free. Pretty rad of you, Googs.
Suspecting that Google wasn’t spending this much on printing plastic bracelets alone, I dug into where the money is going exactly. My findings: This is essentially a three-year commitment from Google to fund programs that get women interested in and give them access to coding.
So far they’ve partnered with Girls Inc., Girl Scouts of America, MIT Media Lab, and SevenTeen, among others. They have committed to paying for 1,000 women take three-month courses at the web-based program Code School. An article on International Business Times online says, “The school’s CEO, Gregg Pollack, said Google will distribute the scholarships ‘strategically at the conference and inside the community,’ to women already working in the tech industry. ‘But what this does mean is thousands of people interested in continuing their path with programming will have the ability to do so free of charge.’ After promotional codes for the initial 1,000 scholarships are given out, Google said it will issue ‘thousands’ more on a promotional basis. Google set up an online form that women can use to apply for the program.” Gizmag reports that a portion of the Made With Code millions will go to rewarding educators who support girls taking computer science classes through Codeacademy or Khan Academy.
In the United States, only 18% of computer science degrees go to women, and while certainly some of the reason for that is our country’s willful neglect of cultivating female interest in comp sci, I’d say interest is only a small part of a fundamental industry problem. I think its intentions are good and it’s a valiant first effort to address the problem, but Made With Code, very simply, can’t and won’t change the dude-bro nature of tech on its own.
Women are not proportionately represented in the tech industry because their interests aren’t being cultivated, but also largely because they face substantial setbacks in Silicon Valley, i.e., once you give women the resources to code, you need to hire them to code.
Like, for starters, the elephant in the room: Made With Code is a pretty bold and massive undertaking by Google, but why aren’t they first and foremost committing to working on their internal diversity? I would have liked to see the company say “We think 17% is a shitty percent, and we’re gonna work towards getting it to 25% by the year 20-whatever” or something along those lines. Who Google employs is entirely in Google’s control, so I’m having trouble understanding why that didn’t happen immediately after they released their employee data last May.
Big problems require big solutions. Made With Code is a commendable start to getting ladies in tech, but I’m holding out for more deliberate, industry-wide initiatives that focus not only on women’s interest and education in tech, but on their outlook for employment, because it doesn’t matter how much interest I have in an industry if I still can’t get my foot in the door. Eyes on you, Silicon Valley.