Caroline And Ian Burgess: To Address The Gender Gap In Tech, Teach All Kids To Code

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Every facet of our economy is rapidly automating. This means that traditional jobs in every sector—traderstruck drivers, even scientists and lawyers—are becoming integrated with computers, or replaced altogether. Unsurprisingly, university graduates in many fields are finding it hard to land a stable job in their field after graduation. The exception, of course, is software engineers and those within other STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) who choose to learn computing extensively. 

With software now an integral part of every industry, all businesses need people who can understand code, build it, fix it, improve it, secure it. As a result, the job market for computer science grads can somewhat resemble the market for homes in Toronto and Vancouver, with many candidates getting multiple bids at very high salaries after only a couple of days on the market.

There is evidence the gender gap in tech is actually growing, and is largest in the most progressive countries.



Almost every day on the news you can find someone talking about how coding is an essential skill in the 21st century economy. Politicians tell us how important tech and STEM are for our future. If they really believe this, coding should be an essential part of our K-12 curriculum. Nearly every adult Canadian has reached basic levels of literacy and numeracy. There is no magic to how this happened. We set high basic educational standards for our kids and committed to a strong public education system that lets nearly every child reach them.

There is an urgent need to get more women and people from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds into coding. Governments and corporations have spent millions on all kinds of initiatives to try to close these gaps. But with little success. In fact, there is evidence that the gender gap in tech is actually growing and is largest in many of the world’s most progressive countries.

 The recent uproar over former Google engineer James Damore’s controversial memorandum on the company’s diversity policies reignited a fierce debate as to whether gender bias and exclusion or innate population-level gender differences primarily account for men continuing to outnumber women in computer science and engineering. We worry both arguments miss the point. The act of not making coding a core subject throughout K-12 sends our children the clear message that learning to code is not essential and is not for everyone. Girls as well as boys from poor socioeconomic backgrounds seem to internalize this type of message more than others.

It is no mystery as to how universal literacy is achieved. We can do the same for coding

It has been well documented that, on average, boys in elementary school lag behind girls in both interest and aptitude for reading and writing. Yet by adulthood, nearly 100 per cent of both genders are literate. Policy-makers interested in ensuring near universal literacy in Canada don’t care whether gender gaps in literacy levels are caused by innate differences, disparities in early childhood environments, or a lack of male teachers in elementary school. No. They set high mandatory standards for all students in literacy, and made sure that everyone was given the resources needed to achieve them. Highly adaptable as they are, most children responded by meeting these expectations. 

 It is time to make computer science a core subject in our schools, one that students are required to take every year in K-12. It is time to tell the next generation of Canadians that learning to code is an essential skill and is for everyone. Because that’s what the 21st century demands. 

National Post

Caroline Burgess is a STEM education and career development consultant based in Hamilton. Ian Burgess is a founder of Validere, a Y-Combinator-backed startup building software and IoT solutions for the petroleum industry. He is based in Toronto and Calgary.

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