Di­ver­sity in Cod­ing:

Why Girls and Stu­dents of Color Are the Fu­ture

iPhone Life Magazine - - Front Page - BY DONNA CLEVE­LAND

If you're look­ing for a ca­reer with good job se­cu­rity and a great salary, you need look no fur­ther than com­puter science. We live in an app-based world, af­ter all, where there's an ex­po­nen­tially grow­ing need for soft­ware that meets the needs of our mod­ern-day life. Since 1990, jobs in com­puter science have grown by 338 per­cent ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Pew Re­search Cen­ter re­port, mak­ing them the fastest-grow­ing oc­cu­pa­tions in the United States. These are high-pay­ing jobs too, with a cur­rent me­dian salary of more than $82,000 (which is al­most dou­ble the na­tional me­dian in­come), ac­cord­ing to the US La­bor Depart­ment.

How­ever, while the field of com­puter science is brim­ming with op­por­tu­nity, women and mi­nori­ties fill a dis­pro­por­tion­ately small num­ber of these po­si­tions. Ac­cord­ing to the Pew re­port, only 7 per­cent of com­puter jobs are filled by African Amer­i­cans and 7 per­cent by His­panic work­ers, while these pop­u­la­tions com­prise 12 per­cent and 17 per­cent of the US la­bor force, re­spec­tively. The re­port found that while women in the states have come close to clos­ing the over­all la­bor force gap (now fill­ing 47 per­cent of jobs), their per­cent­age in com­puter-re­lated jobs has ac­tu­ally dropped from 32 to 25 per­cent in the past three decades. The study ob­serves an in­ter­est­ing cor­re­la­tion: since per­sonal com­put­ers came out and the pub­lic per­cep­tion set in that they're pri­mar­ily the do­main of white male gamers, the per­cent­age of women in com­puter fields has steadily dropped.

Big tech com­pa­nies like Ap­ple, Google, and Face­book have been in the na­tional spot­light in re­cent years for their un­equal em­ploy­ment of women and mi­nori­ties, and many of them have launched pro­grams to in­crease di­ver­sity in their work­forces in response. Even while the pub­lic crit­i­cizes these pro­grams for not do­ing enough (Google em­ploys women in just 20 per­cent of its tech po­si­tions and Ap­ple in just 23 per­cent), there has si­mul­ta­ne­ously been a back­lash, cul­mi­nat­ing in a leaked in­ter­nal memo writ­ten by ex-Google en­gi­neer James Damore last July claim­ing that di­ver­sity pro­grams at Google re­sulted in re­verse dis­crim­i­na­tion and that women were in­her­ently less bi­o­log­i­cally suited to tech jobs.

Amid the din of pub­lic de­bate, the non­profit Code.org has been ad­dress­ing the di­ver­sity gap where it be­gins—at school. Twin broth­ers Hadi and Ali Par­tovi launched Code.org in 2013 af­ter im­mi­grat­ing from Iran. For­merly a devel­oper for Mi­crosoft be­fore be­com­ing CEO of Code.org, Hadi said he ex­pe­ri­enced Stu­dents com­plete cod­ing ex­er­cises us­ing Code.org's cur­ricu­lums. Less than half of Amer­ica's schools of­fer com­puter science cour­ses, but Code.org's CEO Hadi Par­tovi is bent on chang­ing that. “We're ad­dress­ing the prob­lem by mak­ing sure ev­ery school teaches com­puter science,” he said. Image source: Code.org first-hand how com­puter science could change the tra­jec­tory of a per­son's life. Now he spends his time try­ing to bring com­puter science cour­ses to ev­ery pub­lic school. Code.org has de­vel­oped cur­ricu­lums, on­line cour­ses, and out­reach pro­grams that fo­cus on in­clud­ing girls and stu­dents of color from kinder­garten through high school. Their suc­cess has been out­stand­ing: they've reached 500 mil­lion stu­dents with their Hour of Code events, they've prepped 72,000 new com­puter science teach­ers, and helped 40 states change poli­cies to sup­port bring­ing com­puter science into class­rooms. In a con­ver­sa­tion with iPhone Life, Hadi Par­tovi re­sponds to the di­ver­sity back­lash and makes the case for why com­puter science needs women and mi­nori­ties more than ever. En­cour­ag­ing girls and un­der­rep­re­sented mi­nori­ties to learn com­puter science is a cen­tral part of your mis­sion. Why is that im­por­tant?

This is im­por­tant not only be­cause com­puter science leads to the best pay­ing ca­reers, but be­cause in the 21st cen­tury, a

ba­sic high school back­ground in com­puter science will be in­creas­ingly foun­da­tional to ev­ery ca­reer. Yet girls and stu­dents of color are still sys­tem­at­i­cally left be­hind in this crit­i­cal field. We're ad­dress­ing the prob­lem by mak­ing sure ev­ery school teaches com­puter science and by pro­vid­ing a cur­ricu­lum and teacher prep pro­gram that en­sures the class is of­fered in a way that ad­dresses eq­uity and di­ver­sity at the core. What are some of the causes you see as con­tribut­ing to the gen­der gap and un­der­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of peo­ple of color in com­puter pro­gram­ming?

Our fo­cus is on the di­ver­sity gap in K–12 ed­u­ca­tion. There are three fac­tors that con­trib­ute to the prob­lem in our school sys­tems: 1) Equal Ac­cess: Most schools don't even of­fer com­puter science cour­ses. This is par­tic­u­larly true in un­der­priv­i­leged ur­ban and ru­ral schools. If the course isn't even of­fered, the stu­dents never get the op­por­tu­nity to study it. Con­sider this: black stu­dents are more in­ter­ested in study­ing com­puter science, but they are less likely to at­tend a school that of­fers it. Com­puter science is the most-val­ued sub­ject in all ed­u­ca­tion, and we be­lieve stu­dents should have equal ac­cess to study it. 2) Bi­ases and Stereo­types: Where com­puter science is of­fered, it's most of­ten an elec­tive. And with no con­certed ef­forts to re­cruit di­ver­sity, pre­con­ceived stereo­types are per­pet­u­ated through self-se­lec­tion, or even through school ef­forts that re­flect the un­con­scious bi­ases of so­ci­ety. With few to no role models, girls and un­der­rep­re­sented mi­nori­ties make the as­sump­tion that com­puter science is not for them. 3) Math-Fo­cused Cur­ricu­lum: Tra­di­tion­ally com­puter science has been taught as a math course, and that only at­tracts one type of stu­dent. By broad­en­ing the fo­cus to in­clude cre­ativ­ity, app-mak­ing, and so­cial im­pact, we also broaden the par­tic­i­pa­tion by stu­dents who pre­vi­ously didn't con­sider this an in­ter­est­ing course. How are you work­ing to close the di­ver­sity gap?

Code.org works to get com­puter science taught in K–12 schools. When we be­gan our work, only about 10 per­cent of schools of­fered com­puter science classes, and now it's close to 50 per­cent. Code.org cre­ates the world's most pop­u­lar com­puter science cur­ricu­lum for K–12 schools, and we en­list schools and pre­pare teach­ers to teach our cour­ses, with a spe­cific fo­cus on eq­uity and di­ver­sity.

To ad­dress stereo­types and bi­ases, Code.org or­ga­nizes widespread mar­ket­ing and aware­ness cam­paigns, such as the global Hour of Code dur­ing Com­puter Science Ed­u­ca­tion Week that en­cour­age di­verse par­tic­i­pa­tion and fea­ture di­verse role models. Our pro­fes­sional learn­ing pro­grams fea­ture ses­sions that help ed­u­ca­tors un­der­stand the im­por­tance of di­ver­sity and ad­dress ways to avoid un­in­ten­tional bi­ases in in­ter­act­ing and re­cruit­ing stu­dents.

The re­sults speak for them­selves: 25 per­cent of all stu­dents in the United States now have ac­counts on the Code.org plat­form. Close to 12 mil­lion of them are girls. Our stu­dents are al­most half fe­male, al­most half un­der­rep­re­sented mi­nori­ties. Our di­ver­sity numbers and scale are un­prece­dented be­cause of the in­cred­i­ble work of al­most a mil­lion teach­ers who of­fer our cour­ses as part of the K–12 school sys­tem. Code.org CEO Hadi Par­tovi (pic­tured above) and his brother Ali launched their ed­u­ca­tion non­profit in 2013. Af­ter im­mi­grat­ing from Iran and be­com­ing a devel­oper for Mi­crosoft be­fore found­ing Code.org, Hadi has ex­pe­ri­enced first-hand how com­puter science can change the tra­jec­tory of a per­son's life. Now he spends his time try­ing to bring com­puter science cour­ses to ev­ery K–12 school. Image source: Code.org In James Damore’s memo, ti­tled “Google’s Ide­o­log­i­cal Echo Cham­ber,” Damore makes the ar­gu­ment that women are less in­her­ently in­ter­ested or even ca­pa­ble in tech. What is your response to this?

De­bat­ing this, or even ask­ing this ques­tion, is of­fen­sive to women. A 2016 study from the Univer­sity of Toronto shows that genes make no dif­fer­ence in the abil­ity to learn com­puter science. There is no ev­i­dence that bi­o­log­i­cal fac­tors hold women back from learn­ing to code. UCLA re­search shows that the way com­puter science is taught in schools dis­ad­van­tages women. The prob­lems we wit­ness over and over again are ac­ces­si­bil­ity and so­cial stereo­typ­ing. Code.org's own re­search shows that just a sin­gle Hour of Code ac­tiv­ity can boost girls' at­ti­tude and con­fi­dence to­ward cod­ing, by sim­ply try­ing our cour­ses, which are de­signed to break tra­di­tional stereo­types.


Com­mon sense would sug­gest that hav­ing pro­gram­mers from dif­fer­ent back­grounds would lead to a di­ver­sity of ideas. Do you have any ex­am­ples from your or­ga­ni­za­tion that sup­port this no­tion?

Code.org's own team is mostly fe­male, our lead­er­ship team is gen­der bal­anced, and even our tech team boasts bet­ter gen­der di­ver­sity than the in­dus­try av­er­age. We be­lieve this has played a large role in the di­ver­sity re­sults our cour­ses show in Amer­ica's class­rooms. We also pi­lot our cour­ses and our ideas with a na­tion­wide net­work of about 400 teach­ing ex­perts that also bring a di­ver­sity of opin­ions. I've seen tech com­pa­nies make em­bar­rass­ing prod­uct de­sign de­ci­sions be­cause the de­sign team didn't have di­ver­sity in mind, and we've never had that prob­lem at Code.org. In a Red­dit thread last Au­gust, James Damore crit­i­cized or­ga­ni­za­tions in­clud­ing Girls Who Code and Code.org for en­cour­ag­ing a “women are vic­tims” nar­ra­tive. He also accused you of mak­ing cod­ing look more “peo­ple ori­ented than it re­ally is” in or­der to at­tract more women. What is your response to these crit­i­cisms?

Code.org doesn't try to in­crease di­ver­sity in com­puter science by fak­ing what it's about, or by dumb­ing it down, or by col­or­ing it pink, so to speak. We achieve di­ver­sity by broad­en­ing ac­cess, by teach­ing com­puter science as early as kinder­garten be­fore stereo­types kick in, and by ex­pand­ing it from be­ing a math course to in­clude app-mak­ing and cre­ativ­ity. Our stu­dents pass the high school A.P. com­puter science exam in larger numbers than any other group, and with strong di­ver­sity. Our re­sults speak for them­selves. Do you be­lieve it’s pos­si­ble that the gen­der gap is not ev­i­dence of dis­crim­i­na­tion or un­equal op­por­tu­nity? Why or why not?

It could be wrong to as­sume that un­equal out­comes are only a re­sult of un­equal op­por­tu­nity. But when the ma­jor­ity of schools don't even of­fer the op­por­tu­nity to study com­puter science, and this ac­cess is par­tic­u­larly limited in un­der­priv­i­leged ur­ban and ru­ral neigh­bor­hoods, the data eas­ily shows that in­equal­ity of op­por­tu­nity is the prob­lem. How can we cre­ate tech work­places that are more wel­com­ing to all em­ploy­ees?

At Code.org, we strive to cre­ate a work­place that makes em­ploy­ees feel in­cluded re­gard­less of gen­der, race, age, or pol­i­tics. This isn't just about poli­cies like paid fam­ily leave or un­con­scious bias train­ing for em­ploy­ees, but it's also about con­sid­er­ing in­clu­siv­ity as a core goal of the or­ga­ni­za­tion that em­ploy­ees gen­uinely take to heart. What hir­ing prac­tices do you use to pro­mote di­ver­sity? Con­sid­er­ing there are fewer women and mi­nori­ties en­ter­ing the com­puter science work­force, do you find balanc­ing your di­ver­sity ef­forts with a more merit-based ap­proach to be a con­flict of in­ter­est?

Di­ver­sity is a core value at Code.org, and we strive for a di­verse work­force to the ex­tent that we can. We don't con­sider it a mat­ter of balanc­ing di­ver­sity with a more merit-based ap­proach—that im­plies that we com­pro­mise one for the other. It's a mat­ter of mak­ing the best ef­fort to staff a team that is di­verse and has merit. The most im­por­tant tac­tics we use are to proac­tively re­cruit di­verse can­di­dates and to screen re­sumes with­out know­ing the race or gen­der of ap­pli­cants to pre­vent un­con­scious bias. As one ex­am­ple, when we were hir­ing soft­ware engi­neers from univer­sity, we hid their names when screen­ing the re­sumes, and af­ter­wards when we looked at the names we picked, our best can­di­dates were women.


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