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Latinas & Tech: What Steps Are Being Taken to Encourage Women to Study Computer Science?

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First Posted: Jan 08, 2014 03:16 PM EST
Women in Tech
(Photo : Flickr/US Mission Geneva)

While a female presence is predominant online, there is still a lot more work to do to encourage young women, including aspiring Latinas, to study in the field of computer science and later enter in the tech-related workforce.

"Women may make up the majority of online users, trendsetters, and consumers, but they have a long way to go to reach proportionate amounts in the field of technology," the Latin Bay Area reiterated. "Women account for only five percent of tech engineers and startup founders and represent 12 percent of all computer science graduates. Latinas are even less represented with only .03 percent of Latina freshmen majoring in computer science in 2006."

However, last year, 25 Latinas in technology were recognized for their innovative ideas and contributions to technology.

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According to Code.org, some of the obstacles that contribute the low percentages of women in computer science today stem from our education system where 90 percent of schools don't teach the subject, and if they do, it's taught as an elective. It also points out that "in 33 states, computer science doesn't even count towards high school graduation" and "when boys dominate the few computer science courses or clubs that are offered in American schools, the odd girl who braves the ('nerd') stereotype sees instruction catering to male interests."

Code.org points out that in the 80s, this wasn't the case, "which is great encouragement that we can turn around the trend."

"In 1985, young women earned 37 percent of computer science degrees compared with just 18 percent today. The world's 'first computer programmer' was a woman, and so was one of the earliest computer scientists, who coined the word 'debugging.'

"Even in high schools, computer science participation was on the rise in the 80s. But after the 2001 dot-com bubble burst, many high schools closed their computer science programs. By 2009, 35 percent fewer high schools schools taught AP computer science, (and 17 percent fewer taught an intro class)."

On the other hand, efforts are being made to change these statistics.

Last month, hundreds of organizations, tens of thousands of teachers, and over 20 million students tried computer science for the first time with an activity called the "Hour of Code" -- and it's important to note that half of them were girls.

The "Hour of Code" is an opportunity for every student to try computer science for one hour. The initiative was held during Computer Science Education Week (Dec. 9-15), yet the "Hour of Code" can be taught all year-round. Tutorials will work on browsers, tablets, smartphones, or "unplugged."

The "Hour of Code's" mission gained the support of President Barack Obama, Colombian singer Shakira, Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft's Bill Gates and actor Ashton Kutcher, among others, proving that computer science can be accessible to all -- and at the same time it can be a fun experience.

What were the results?

"Parents, teachers and students responded with excitement and surprise watching every single student stay glued to the activity after getting a taste of their first line of code," the Code.org reports. "In just one week, more girls participated in computer science than all the boys who tried computer science in the history of the US school system."

Check out the video for the "Hour of Code" featuring Colombian superstar, Shakira, among others.


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