The Girl Code: Reprogramming Software’s Glass Ceiling

Pathway_article-3-largeBy Lynne Williams
Full-Time Faculty, School of Business and Information Technology

A recent Gallup Poll headline caught my eye: “Nearly half of smartphone users can’t imagine life without it.” No surprise there. However, it was noted that more women than men agreed with the statement (51% to 41%, respectively). Let that sink in a moment. The smartphone—the ultimate transformative technology, technology being the “bastion realm” of men—is considered more essential by women. Moreover, women install 40% more apps than men do, with the top five download categories being social media, news, productivity, lifestyle, and books (Venture Beat 2013). Considering that women have the higher level of attachment to their devices and download more apps, why aren’t there more female coders out there developing the apps that women use?

Part of the phenomenon can be linked to the traditional perception of what a software developer looks like, i.e., male and “geeky.” It’s a cultural stereotype that can turn off girls at the K-12 grades, deterring them from pursuing code development as a career path early on. Subsequently, most of these young women don’t change their minds once they do get to college, creating a major gender gap in the mobile app industry and software development in general.

According to Julie Prescott’s and Julie Elizabeth McGurren’s book, Gender Considerations and Influence in the Digital Media and Gaming Industry, (IGI Global, 2014) there is nearly a nine to one ratio of men to women studying game design and development in undergraduate institutions. Those few successful women in the field have a general consensus on why such a gap exists:   there is not enough encouragement early on to get young girls interested in coding. Many of these women coders cited that they had mentors when they were young, either parents or teachers, who exposed them to coding and technology through school computing classes or who urged them to try coding at home.

While college-level recruitment programs focus on start-ups and diversity to attract more women entrepreneurs to the tech industry, it seems clear that more needs to be done to inspire girls in elementary and middle school to do coding. The rise of private and public initiatives such as Girl Who Code, Girl Develop It, and App Camp for Girls, are critical to this movement. But the movement isn’t limited by age. Programs such as Women Tech Makers, Women’s Coding Collective, and Ladies Learning Code are encouraging older women to enter the coding arena, especially as the technology sector offers many new avenues for re-careering.

Coding apps and creating software is a collaborative experience that should appeal to most women’s team-oriented sensibilities. While the mobile app development market is burgeoning thanks to female consumers, the coding industry may be missing out in the long run by not doing more to introduce and support coding careers among women.

Interested in this career? Check out Purdue Global's IT resources here.

Lynne Williams is a faculty member at Purdue Global. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the view of Purdue Global.