January 29th, 2009, wasn’t your typical Thursday, at least not for me anyway. On this day, President Obama signed his first piece of legislation, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Quite simply, this law makes it easier for women to effectively challenge unequal pay. This law struck a chord within me as not only a woman working in the male-dominated tech industry, but also as the soon-to-be-mother of a girl—who will undoubtedly face gender inequality at some point during her lifetime. When I began my career 16 years ago, I wanted to work in an environment that was committed to gender equality—especially given the widening gender gap in computer science in the past few decades.
As it stands now, women represent half of the US workforce, but we only hold 25 percent of tech and computer science jobs. This disparity means we have a tremendous opportunity and a great responsibility to raise a new generation of women in technology who think creatively, push the envelope, and who aren’t afraid to take risks and impact the world around them (my now 6-year old daughter included.) After all, men and women fundamentally think differently, react to situations differently and vary greatly in their problem-solving techniques. This difference is a good thing, and I firmly believe that diversity in the workplace is essential to the success of any business.
For the past 16 years, I’ve had the pleasure of working for global professional services company, Accenture, which supports the vision of improving the way we work and live. This vision is about exploration, and two years ago I began exploring a new role within my company when we partnered with the non-profit organization Girls Who Code. Through our involvement with this important organization, we’re helping to inspire, educate and equip young women with computing and professional skills that enable them to pursue technology careers. Our commitment to Girls Who Code reflects our belief that attracting, retaining and advancing women are all critical to being a high-performance and successful business. I couldn’t agree more.
Taking on this new role felt like a natural next step for me. I saw it as a way to break down the barrier of the male-dominated tech field and help expose young women to computer science and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). In college, I majored in computer information systems, and more than 90 percent of my classmates were men. Shortly after graduating, I started working full time as a programmer and was one of only a handful of women on my team. Clearly, this wasn’t a field that was attracting a lot of females, and that’s always been something I’ve wanted to change.
Tricia Barlow, joined by Chief Technology Officer Paul Daugherty and Managing Director Stacey Jones, with the 2015 graduating class of the NY Accenture Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program
Fast-forward to today and the disparity between men and women in tech is still sharply measured. The U.S. Department of Labor says that by 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer specialist job openings. Yet it’s expected that US universities will only produce enough qualified graduates to fill 29 percent of those jobs. And just how many of them will be women? This need for qualified workers is why organizations like Girls Who Code are vital. The opportunities for women to work in tech are boundless, and the more women we have working in the STEM fields, the more diverse, balanced and unique perspectives we will have contributing to today’s workforce.
My involvement with Girls Who Code thus far has been incredibly rewarding. I’ve seen some amazing young women embrace computer science, learning to code (like I did at a young age) and beginning to break the mold of STEM as a male-dominated field. Plus, I’m continually amazed to hear the mixture of ideas among Girls Who Code students. During the last two weeks of one of the Accenture-sponsored Summer Immersion Programs this year, the girls got to design and code a final project on a subject matter of their choice. Most of them chose projects centered on social issues, such as the hazards and dangers of texting while driving, gender imbalance in office temperatures and finding affordable health care centers.
By 2020, Girls Who Code hopes to provide computer science education and exposure to one million young women. For our part, Accenture is hosting Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Programs this year in New York, Chicago and Atlanta. This will be our second time welcoming girls in our offices in New York and Chicago and the first time in Atlanta. This unique program offers young women seven weeks of skills training as well as exposure to real-world business expertise and mentorship opportunities. We’re also supporting 15 Girls Who Code clubs in 11 states across the United States, in which more than 200 girls have participated.
Girls Who Code is an amazingly successful movement for the same reason that motivated me to study computer information systems in college—because I believe that a broader female perspective provides the necessary balance and diversity we need in our current work culture to improve our lives. Through our partnership with Girls Who Code, we hope to inspire and guide more young women to become technology leaders and secure jobs in this creative and rewarding field. I can’t wait to tell my daughter about it.