Treehouse, an online coding school, has just launched an initiative called “Change the Ratio” to bring more girls into the tech industry. It joins a growing movement to fix the tech gender gap and comes hot on the heels (flats?) of startups such as PowerToFly, a brand-new website that connects female job seekers with companies across the country.
While organizations like Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code have sprung up to fight the gender gap in the tech sector, Treehouse’s CEO, Ryan Carson, has a unique take: Borrowing a page from the Peter Thiel playbook, he advocates for middle and high school-aged girls to skip college and get real-world job skills instead. “We think there is absolutely no need to get a college degree,” he says. “Employers are disinterested in whether you have a degree or your skin color or your sex. It’s just a question of, “Can you do it?”
Carson’s approach is somewhat unconventional. According to recent data, the pay gap between those with college degrees and those without reached a record high last year. Americans with four-year college degrees earned 98% more per hour than their peers without degrees. In tech, it is certainly possible to get a job without a diploma: The last census indicated that 38% of web developers did not have a four-year degree. Yet, degrees are still the norm and recruiters still see educational achievements as an asset.
Treehouse, in partnership with Girls, Inc. and ChickTech, is sponsoring middle and high school girls by giving them the opportunity to learn how to code for free on its platform. When students complete the entire Treehouse curriculum, they will be ready to land tech jobs by the time they graduate, sparing them the cost of college if they choose not to attend. “There is a fundamental disruption that is happening in education,” Carson says. “There is now no correlation between getting an expensive degree and getting a great job in technology, especially as a woman.”
While Carson’s enthusiasm is infectious, the jury’s still out on exactly how a woman’s degree plays into the hiring process in tech. In a study published earlier this year, researchers found that women face deep-seated discrimination when trying to land tech jobs, since employers show preference toward male candidates, even when their female counterparts are equally qualified. Given the bias in the industry, a degree might give a woman an advantage in the hiring process.
One thing’s clear: Girls are socialized to think that science is a masculine endeavor from a young age, so part of Treehouse’s mission with “Change the Ratio” is helping girls reimagine coding as a gender-neutral endeavor. “We talk about solving real-world problems,” Carson says. “We talk about making amazingly fun and creative things.” He also insisted on using an image of a woman on her computer at a coffee shop on the company’s homepage, to make it more welcoming to women.
Treehouse’s “Change the Ratio” program is part of a broader “Code-to-Work” initiative that partners with organizations in underserved areas to give unemployed and underemployed workers the chance to develop tech skills for free, then connect with employers. The goal is to place 150,000 people in computer programming jobs by 2018. Carson says the Treehouse platform is particularly suited to women in these communities who are juggling children and jobs. “It would be laughable to try to go back to school when you are already stretched so thin,” he says. “The idea is to make women job-ready in six to 12 months, by taking classes in your spare time or in the hour before your kids wake up in the morning.”
Since many tech companies are working hard to close the gender gap, Carson encourages women to jump on these opportunities by equipping themselves with the right skills. “This is such an exciting time: If you are a woman who knows how to code, you have a leg up because technology companies want to hire women; they are going out of their way to look for them.”