CXO

Why it's important for the tech industry to get more young girls interested in STEM

At the 2017 Code PaLOUsa conference, Sara Chipps, CEO of Jewelbots, explained how girls are socialized away from tech careers, and what companies can do to close the gender gap.

It may not seem like it, but girls age nine to 14 actually run the world. Not only do they determine which pop stars rise to prominence, but also which new tech trends do, said Sara Chipps, CEO and cofounder of Jewelbots, in a keynote address at the Code PaLOUsa software developer conference in Louisville, KY on Friday. Instagram, SnapChat, and Musical.ly all remain popular due to the influence of this age group, Chipps said.

However, as all professions move more toward technology, and software engineer roles are predicted to grow between 20% and 30% in the next 10 years, women remain missing from the field. Women compose only 18% of computer science majors, and 19% of AP computer science test takers. Just 15% of Google's tech team is female.

Those are some pretty low numbers considering that women compose more than half of the US population, said Chipps, who is also the cofounder of the nonprofit Girl Develop It and former CTO of the Flatiron School.

"The internet is the largest recording of human history we've ever made as a species, and it's being built by one kind of person," Chipps said. "If the people building it are the same as the people consuming it, I think we'd be building a better internet."

SEE: The top 8 companies for women in tech, as ranked by female employees

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Image: iStockphoto/DGLimages

Girls are socialized away from STEM fields at early ages, Chipps said, as evidenced by the toy options for young girls and young boys.

With Jewelbots, a company dedicated to getting more young girls interested in STEM, Chipps created hardware in the form of friendship bracelets that young women can program to connect and communicate with friends, and to perform a number of tasks. The idea was to make it open source so that the girls can learn to code on it, but not market it as a purely education tool, Chipps said.

Since late 2016, some 7,000 Jewelbot units have sold, Chipps said. And 44% of people that purchase a bracelet end up coding it. The company is currently working on an app that would pair the bracelets with Instagram and Facebook, so users can see when they recieve a friend request or are tagged in a photo, Chipps said.

How can companies work to close the gender gap? The best thing tech leaders can do is hire more women in senior management roles, Chipps said. "I think that people hire people in their networks," she said. "It turns out when you're a male manager, your network is mostly made up of men like yourself. If you get diversity in management and people making hiring decisions, it makes for a much more diverse team."

Another issue is that you rarely see white male employees described as "junior," Chipps said, while you often see women five years into their career given that label. "Recognize that bias you might have of thinking as women inherently as junior, and start looking at them as people who can be owners of their work, and people who learned a lot over a long period of time," she said.

Disclaimer: CBS Interactive, TechRepublic's parent company, is a sponsor of the 2017 Code PaLOUsa event.

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About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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