One Small Step For Google, One Giant Leap For Empowering Girls To Code

With Google’s $1 million backing and partnerships with well-known coding schools, girls have a better chance to break the tech ceiling.

One Small Step For Google, One Giant Leap For Empowering Girls To Code
[Image: Flickr user Jennifer Morrow]

Less than 1% of women going to college plan to major in computer science, according to the American Association of University Women. Those are bleak numbers.


What will prompt more women to get into coding? The first step: paying teachers to recruit girls to take coding classes.

With $1 million in funding from Google’s Made With Code initiative, nonprofit is rewarding teachers with money when they get four or more female students to complete a coding class online.

The money is given toward school projects or supplies–everything from new laptops to class field trips–depending on a teacher’s need. “Think of it as an altruistic performance bonus,” says Charles Best, founder and CEO of DonorsChoose.

Since it launched in 2000, the organization has acted as a Kickstarter for public school teachers, offering them funding for projects. Now with financial backing from Google, it’s partnering with Codecademy and Khan Academy, both of which offer online coding classes.

The initiative has the ambitious goal of doubling the amount of high school girls studying computer science. Then again, the precedent isn’t all that high. Only 19% of students who took the Advanced Placement Computer Science A exam in 2013 were women, according to the College Board . Since the initiative launched in April, more than 2,550 female high school students have completed a coding course through the program.

Promoting Girl Power

Melissa Sak, who teaches 10th-grade English at the Barack Obama Green Charter School in Plainfield, New Jersey, convinced six female students she’d been supervising on the yearbook to enroll in Codecademy’s JavaScript class. Sak sees the gender divide in computer science every day with her students.


Her school takes part in another tech education program called MOUSE squad, which trains students in technology so they can help teachers troubleshoot tech issues. The problem? No girls participate in her school’s MOUSE squad.

Last spring, Sak, who also runs the school’s yearbook and manages the computer lab, received an interesting proposition in her email inbox. If she recruited four of her female students to complete an online coding class, DonorsChoose would give her $500 to spend toward the school, and each girl would also get $125 toward a project of her choosing. That means for every four girls who participate, a teacher is given $1,000 in total to spend on projects or supplies for students.

“I thought: through this opportunity, let me create the female version of the MOUSE squad,” she says. “There are not a lot of opportunities that are female-centric.”

Whether the program will help solve the gender gap in computer science remains to be seen. At least, Google is hooking up teachers badly in need of more funding with a bit of cash. “We could really use some updated tech equipment,” says Sak.

About the author

Jane Porter writes about creativity, business, technology, health, education and literature. She's a 2013 Emerging Writing Fellow with the Center For Fiction.