For anyone interested in seeing more women in computer science, there is a thread of hope running through Mike Cassidy's recent series. The articles suggest that women are attracted to computer science if they first see what difference coding can make in the world.
By beginning with the purpose for computer science and then adding access to role models and job opportunities, it is possible to attract women to the field.
Our experience at The Tech Museum of Innovation bears out the belief that focusing on the impacts of technology, rather than the technology itself, serves to engage girls in science and technology.
For 27 years we have conducted a competition called The Tech Challenge. Nearly 50 percent of our participants are girls. Like the successful institutions cited by Cassidy, we emphasize how technology is relevant to solving real problems.
For instance, the challenge this year is to use wind power to move water from one place to another. Participants easily make the connection between this challenge and the water challenges faced by so many in our world.
Women who participated in the Tech Challenge when they were in school have told us that the competition was important in their decisions to pursue science in college.
Based on our experience, we are designing an entire floor of exhibits that we believe will appeal equally to girls and boys. The first -- "Social Robots" -- opened this summer. It challenges visitors to build robots that will do something meaningful in the world.
In prototyping the exhibit, we found that if we took wheels out of the equation, the exhibit would not skew toward boys. Boys used the wheels to turn everything into cars, and when they did, girls lost interest. When we eliminated wheels, visitors focused more squarely on creating robots that could be useful and enjoyable. Girls enjoy the challenge and participate in it as robustly as boys.
The next two exhibits -- Human Data and Cyber Security -- have been prototyped in a similar way, and we have every reason to believe they will engage girls and boys alike.
There are many reasons to believe the future will be better for encouraging women to pursue computer science. Industry, university and nonprofit groups are mobilizing to make computer science more accessible and appealing to young women.
The Common Core curriculum should make a difference as well. Science taught under that curriculum will be project-based and, therefore, is likely to appeal to girls for the reasons that our Tech Challenge appeals to them.
K-12 schools and parents should seize this moment to reframe computer science in ways that girls will respond to as naturally as they do to other branches of science that appeal to their native desire to do something meaningful with their lives.
Silicon Valley businesses are focused on recruiting more women into computer science fields because they need talent. Parents and schools are beginning to focus on it because the jobs open to those who can code are plentiful and lucrative. But there is another reason everyone should want more women in the computer science field.
Computer code often reflects the values and biases of the person who designs it. Code designed by women will reflect a different way of looking at things. Just as fields such as medicine and law are richer, and better, because of the contributions of women, so too will be the code that runs our world when more women are at the table designing it.