Calling All Girls: Their Future, Our Responsibility

by Idit Harel Caperton
June 8, 2012

Dr. Idit Harel Caperton, President and Founder of the World Wide Workshop, is passionate about getting more young girls and women excited about becoming leaders in STEM-related fields.This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post and is reprinted here with permission. This is the second of two posts about integrating more women in the gaming industry: read the first post here. In this piece, she focuses on how to get girls and young women the support they need to dive into computer-related fields.

You may ask: Why is increasing girls participation in computing from a young age is so important? At the NCWIT Summit last month, we discussed three key reasons:

  • Improving technical innovation on a national level (by including the other 50%);
  • Reducing social inequalities (by ensuring that girls become able to pursue the 1.4 million well-paying computing-related jobs available by 2018);
  • Ensuring a competitive workforce (because failing to capitalize on girls’ and women’s talent threatens productivity, innovation and global competitiveness).

Video games can play an interesting role here … especially if like me you believe that computing and software engineering knowledge and skills are required to conceive and build great games and a great video game industry. In my last post I claimed that the video game industry is the fastest growing industry on the planet and the world’s newest mass medium routinely accessed by 72 percent of U.S. households, is representing a powerful economic sector involving capital, licensing, hardware, software, production, production tools, distribution and publishing—and an ever-expanding universe of end users. I also highlighted that this soaring global industry offers an exceptional career opportunity tomorrow, to those who get the support they need in gaining mathematical and scientific skills, and attaining computer science capacities today.

However, I am persistently bothered by the fact that only a mere 10 percent of the workforce in the video gaming industry is women, confronting an under-representation in what today constitutes a substantive career opportunity (see, for example, The ESA website). Women are underrepresented in the STEM careers, making up just 25 percent of the labor force in science, technology, engineering and math-based jobs, according to NCWIT.

Beyond just an issue of fairness and equality, redressing the overall imbalance is an imperative for the economy as a whole. Many studies show that economic growth is spurred when women are empowered, educated and employed. Google’s 2011 Global Diversity Report, states that in the U.S., fewer and fewer students are graduating with computer science degrees each year, and enrollment rates are even lower for women and underrepresented groups. It’s important to grow a diverse talent pool of the “technologists-of-tomorrow,” because it’s integral to the success of the technology industry as a whole. In fact, many leaders of the video game industry claim that for them, it is a matter of sheer survival.

That is partly because women— and, increasingly, adult women—are the market for video games. Females 18 and over are the fastest-growing demographic among consumers of this exploding industry. So if game developers are going to be able to deliver the products that will “speak” to their core market, it behooves them to add more women to their employee ranks. That means a long list and diverse range of job and career opportunities coming online over the next decades for those women qualified or at least comfortable in the skills and capabilities that video game development requires.

What kind of jobs are we talking about? 

  • Good, stable ones: well-paying, career-building jobs.
  • The annual salary range for the average female senior software developer — with a BA degree only — is between $74,660 and $100, 591 dollars per year (according to Payscale).
  • And, the Department of Labor tells us that of the 20 occupations that provide women their highest median earnings, five are computing occupations: software engineers, computer and information systems managers, computer programmers, computer scientists and systems analysts, and network systems and data communications analysts — all needed in the video game industry.
  • That industry also needs game designers, game producers, digital artists and publishers; creative script writers and character developers;
  • As well as administrators for distribution, logistics and inventory control; managers who can do strategic planning, marketing, online communications and usability research; teachers and trainers to prepare girls for these jobs;
  • Public relations aces who understand the business and the science so they can broadcast developments, outsourcers and outsourcees;
  • And of course, consultants to add specific expertise.

In summary, there is a universe of career potential for those who know and understand the power of video gaming and how to make them, and it represents a formidable opportunity for economic advancement and personal fulfillment for those able to seize the opportunity.

There can be no question about girls’ ability to do so. There may be an academic debate over gender differences and cognitive style and function, but there is no debate over girls’ ability to perform and indeed excel in mathematical and computational thinking, engineering and science fields (e.g., in2011-12 at MIT, 1,963 women are enrolled as undergraduates (45 percent) and 2,056 as graduate students (32 percent)). From what I hear in conversations with young women who dared to step in and discover their “STEM-Power,” right now, in fact, the only thing holding most girls back from acquiring the computer science education they need in order to gain their rightful place in technology careers is an antiquated cultural attitude. This has already been demonstrated in the legal and medical professions, to name just two: Open up the (medical and legal) classrooms to girls and women, and the antiquated cultural attitude crumbles as women take their rightful place in a workforce once considered the province of men only.

All this adds up to a formidable responsibility for educators, community leaders, corporate leaders, government leaders, parents and all concerned citizens — namely, the responsibility to ensure that girls today not only can acquire the needed skills and develop the required capabilities they need to be able to equally seize tomorrow’s opportunities, but also to be exposed to various hands-on learning opportunities to be inspired and dream about their varied future possibilities in these fields.

Here is the good news:
Fortunately, around the country, there are several organizations partnering in a widening network of initiatives to ensure that this will happen — that our daughters and granddaughters will have the chance, if they want it, to pursue STEM careers, and certainly in those careers requiring computational thinking, engineering and computer science expertise. My team and I have been involved in many of these mission-filled initiatives in this area, and I am excited to help my readers to click, explore and support.

NCWIT, for example, through its K-12 Alliance, is working with partners like technology giants, ed-tech entrepreneurs (e.g., my company), girls clubs, public schools, colleges and universities, non-profits, and educational associations on programs to make girls more interested in and confident about computers and computing; while its Workforce Alliance, completes the mission by working with tech companies (e.g., Cisco, Microsoft, Avaya, Bank of America) on recruiting, retaining, and developing women of all ethnic backgrounds in technical jobs.

The AMD Foundation, has also been targeting girls in their impressive portfolio of Changing the Game programs. Most recently, they partnered with The Entertainment Software Association to support the National STEM Video Game Challenge, a competition whose main goal is to motivate general interest in STEM among Americans by tapping into young people’s natural passion for playing video games.

It is important to differentiate, however, those STEM initiatives that seriously cultivate computing education and develop computer science skills among learners, which are usually more intense, and quite different than the typical ed-games and ed-tech uses in the classroom.

Here is a concrete, living example: My organization, the World Wide Workshop, is an AMD partner, ESA partner, NCWIT partner and also a National STEM Video Game Challenge partner. With our signature program, Globaloria, a learning network and game-making platform and curriculum, we aim precisely at teaching computational literacies and computer science skills to young learners, without excluding or intimidating female students and teachers. In addition to introducing girls to software design and computer programming (in grades 6-12) using a super structured pedagogy in schools, afterschool clubs and summer camps, Globaloria also emphasizes a set of essential accompanying skills to computing of critical thinking, content research, problem-solving, analysis and collaboration with others — practiced by teaching how to create and code their own videogames or science simulations.

The key idea: Innate penchant for or interest in mathematics or computers is a plus but NOT required; rather, girls come to experience the computational process through having an initial interest in a social or environmental issue that matters to them, or struggling with a concept they want to teach to others — and that interest is what drives them to learn to develop an educational game on that subject, and they experience/learn computing and mathematics along the way!

 

Learn more about the work that the World Wide Workshop does with Globaloria, a learning network and game-making platform and curriculum, by reading the full post on the Huffington Post! And visit the World Wide Workshop and Globaloria websites for more information about the amazing work they do to introduce students to software design and computer programming.