If Google Wants to Get Girls into Coding, It Needs to Think Beyond Pink and Purple
In June, Google revealed that its next innovation needs to be a way to promote gender equity: women hold only 17 percent of the company’s technology positions. According to Google, the statistics were released with the hopes of recruiting and developing “the world’s most talented and diverse people.”
Last week, Google announced that it will invest $50 million over three years into Made with Code, a program that aims to motivate young women to learn about code. Made with Code has a great range of lead contributors and nonprofit partners, including Girl Scouts of America, Mozilla Webmaker, Black Girls Code, and the MIT Media Lab. The concept is engaging and it’s necessary: to create a community of mentors and makers for young women interested in tech, plus launch interactive projects that will get girls interested in coding. Women only make up 12 percent of computer science majors, and as a leading tech company, Google hopes to change this dynamic by targeting women when they’re young.
Each mentor video—which feature women who work in a range of professions, including dance, filmmaking, and music—finishes with the phrase “Things You Love are Made with Code” and the iconic Google logo. Not having mentors or female role models to look up to is thought to be a reason why girls do not pursue computer science fields. “Being able to write code is like being able to write your own story in technology,” says Made with Code mentor Limor Fried, owner of electronic hobbyist group Adafruit Industries, in her mentor video on the new website. “The reward is when you’ve built something that nobody else has built before.”
The messages of confidence and creativity sprinkled throughout the videos can inspire girls interested in coding. However, the new Made with Code program is not one-size-fits-all.
After sampling the projects and exploring the program, I think there is something to be desired underneath the site's pink and purple backdrop. Though the website says it has more projects on the way, Made with Code currently allows young women to play with five projects—Accessorizer, Gif, Bracelet, Beats, and Avatar—but the “coding” is simply dragging boxes to indicated areas and changing the placement area on the grid. Accessorizer, for example, is a way for users to decorate uploaded selfies with graphics. Gif lets people create four frame animations on a grid with cartoon characters adorned with big eyelashes. The Bracelet project lets anyone make a free 3-D printed bracelet. The seven step process only takes a few minutes: users design the text for a bracelet and the design is sent to a 3-D printer, then Google will mail the printed bracelets to the person who designed it. It's a fun idea, but the actually technology is never seen—there's no picture of a 3-D printer or explanation of how it works. All in all, the proejcts are simple and good for young kids, but I’m wondering when the real programming is going to begin.
While the program has great intentions and many components of the site shine—such as its Events and Resources pages, which include links to more challenging coding projects—the site's gender standards overpower areas where Google could show how multi-faceted girl coders can be. Not every girl loves accessorizing with bracelets, decorating selfies, or creating cutsie images of unicorns. Girls also like games, outer space, sports, sci-fi, and challenges. Girls like more colors than just pink and purple, which adorn each page of the website.
“If girls are inspired to see that Computer Science can make the world more beautiful, more usable, more safe, more kind, more innovative, more healthy, and more funny, then hopefully they’ll begin to contribute their essential voices,” reads the About statement on the Made with Code website.
This statement along with examples in the mentor videos and colors solidify the idea that girls must still be soft, nurturing, kind, and cute while coding, keeping girls in a separate gender box. The new Made with Code program is reminiscent of the Lego Friends collection, created with the idea that girls learn to construct differently. While Made with Code can generate interest for building and creativity within girls, the program needs to move away from rigid ideas of feminine girlhood in order to truly be successful. Made with Code must emphasize the possibilities for leadership and difference making and not just “dreaming” and “beauty-making.”
A scene on the Resources page of Made With Code, which encourages girls to host a "code party."
However, some of the videos on Made with Code do challenge the stereotypes of girls’ interests. One mentor video features Tesca Fitzgerald, a 17-year-old student in a Georgia Institute of Technology PhD program who is studying robot interaction and cognitive science. She explains how thrilling it can be to work on computers and planning a design using code. Women hold only 27 percent of computer science positions. Having Fitzgerald as a mentor can allow girls to see they can become leaders in the field of robots and electric design and not just use coding soley in careers they are told to pursue because of their gender, such as dance or fashion.
What is most important is that a tremendous effort is going into addressing the gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and math careers by a company so influential as Google. Technology is interwoven into every part of our lives and girls should know every kind of impact they could make. Made with Code can effectively reveal the possibilities of technology to young women, but Google must take into account that young women have a wider range of interests than just pink and purple.
Related Reading: An Epic Feminist Edit-a-Thon takes Aim at Wikipedia's Gender Gap.
Lucy Vernasco is the new media intern at Bitch. She made this article with code.
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