Because LaunchCode Is Tackling the Paucity of Women in Tech

One of 75 reasons we love St. Louis in 2016

Crystal Martin, CoderGirl's program director, shows the changing face of tech. - PHOTO BY ALLISON BABKA
  • Crystal Martin, CoderGirl's program director, shows the changing face of tech.

"Why aren't there more women in computer science?"

The question has been weighing on hiring managers' minds in recent years as companies finally recognize that a diverse lineup of employees often leads to better products. Unfortunately, the answer isn't simple. Everything from marketing PCs specifically to boys in the 1980s to the subsequent absence of female representation in geek culture to flat-out sexism in a male-dominated field has contributed to a situation where women hold only 26 percent of computing-related jobs — and more than half leave those gigs mid-career for less technical, less toxic opportunities, according to a 2015 study from the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

Enter CoderGirl, an initiative from the St. Louis tech nonprofit LaunchCode (4811 Delmar Boulevard), determined to address the gender gap in tech and create a pipeline of talented coders.

CoderGirl aims to change the stereotypical face of programming — admit it: when you hear "computer geek," you probably think of a white dude — by offering free training and networking opportunities to St. Louis women in a collaborative, non-toxic environment. Facilitated by education and community engagement manager Crystal Martin, CoderGirl participants of every skill level pair up with mentors to work on personal and professional coding projects without the hesitancy that women sometimes find in male-skewing learning spaces. Through a combination of weekly online classes and hands-on tinkering, these women build apps and programs that are both useful and creative.

The program is doing more than simply pulling women toward a traditionally male industry, though; it's also introducing even more diversity into that talent pipeline. CoderGirl's go-at-your-own-pace training has become immensely popular with women of color, women at both very young and advanced ages, and women from a variety of economic backgrounds — all of whom are traditionally underrepresented in the tech field and in hiring in general. Participants who successfully complete CoderGirl training at the LaunchCode Mentor Center may apply for LaunchCode apprenticeships with local big-name companies or explore other opportunities for full-time work in programming. With dozens of women taking advantage of CoderGirl's skills training each week, we're betting that the next "women in tech" study will be a bit more encouraging.

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