Code.org's Approach to Diversity and Equity in Computer Science

The fields of software, computing, and computer science are plagued by stark underrepresentation by gender, race, ethnicity, geography, and family income. In U.S. high schools, the Advanced Placement exam in Computer Science has historically (since the beginning of the century) had only 22 percent participation by young women, and only 13 percent participation by underrepresented minorities (students who are Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino/Latina/Latinx, Native American/Alaskan, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders).

This problem extends to university programs and to the software workplace, which suffer a similar lack of diversity. There are many issues to address to solve the entire problem of diversity in the tech workforce - from bias in hiring, retention or promotion practices, or capacity-building in university programs. We work with our Diversity Advisory Council to help connect our work in K-12 to the bigger picture.


Our focus: computer science in grades K-12

Our focus is primarily on K-12 learning, which is where the problem begins. The data shows that experiences in K-12 directly impact students’ future in computer science. Among women, those who try AP Computer Science in high school are 10 times more likely to major in computer science. Black and Latino students who try AP Computer Science in high school are 7-8 times more likely to major in computer science (source).

More important than the tech workforce pipeline, computer science is now a foundational subject for all 21st century careers, making access in K-12 to this knowledge an equity issue that must be addressed. But access to computer science is unequal.

A student’s opportunity should not be determined by the color of their skin, their family income, or the neighborhood they grow up in. But in the United States, the opposite is true when it comes to K-12 computer science:



Our goal at Code.org is for every student in every school to have the opportunity to learn computer science, and to reach balanced representation in grades K-12. Working towards that goal, we use a holistic approach that spans marketing, curriculum, professional learning, and government policy to close gaps in participation and equity across gender, race, income, and geography. We measure our success not only by the total number of students learning computer science, but also by the participation of underrepresented groups.

Diversity in AP Computer Science since Code.org launch in 2013

The charts below show participation in the AP Computer Science exam among female students and underrepresented minorities since 2007. Not only has overall participation grown, but the overall proportion of these traditionally underrepresented groups has been increasing. The improvements aren't the result of Code.org's work alone. There is a whole community of organizations working on diversity in CS, but the real credit belongs to the thousands of teachers who have worked for years to improve diversity in their classrooms. While things are moving in the right direction, we have a long way to go to reach a balanced population in computer science.



Diversity of students in Code.org courses across grades K-12

Addressing diversity and equity issues is core to Code.org’s work, and is woven throughout our programs - from curriculum to teacher professional learning to advocacy to marketing. We focus not only on gender and socioeconomic diversity, but also on increasing participation among underrepresented minorities: Black, Latino, American Indian, and Native Pacific Islander.

Because computer science is a foundational course for all students, we design courses for every student at the school to participate — courses that don’t require advanced prerequisites or a background with technology. And, we introduce students to learning it at an early age, before stereotypes influence their decisions.

We increase diversity in computer science by reaching students of all backgrounds where they are — at their skill-level, in their schools, and in ways that inspire them to keep learning. . Of course, when our teachers integrate computer science into classrooms that all students attend, we have an immediate impact on diversity. (Details on how we measure student diversity in our courses are here.)

Underrepresentation by race/ethnicity isn't about lack of interest, it’s about access to quality CS programs

Because Black, Latino, American Indian, and Native Pacific Islander students are dramatically underrepresented in university computer science departments (making up just 17% of CS majors) and in AP Computer Science exams, it may seem that they're less interested in studying computer science than their white or Asian peers. But their participation in Code.org courses suggests the opposite. When looking at middle-school and high-school classrooms studying CS Discoveries or CS Principles on Code.org, it turns out that underrepresented minorities sign up for computer science classes at much higher rates than national AP data would suggest.

The chart below shows the data from hundreds of Code.org computer science classrooms. We compared the percent of underrepresented minorities at the school as a whole to the percent among students who enroll in our courses. The orange dots represent computer science classrooms that are more diverse than the school as a whole. The blue dots are those that are less diverse.


Most Code.org classrooms are nearly evenly balanced. This shows that when educators and administrators offer a curriculum and program designed to support diversity and equity in computer science, participation by these underrepresented groups dramatically exceeds the nationwide numbers and the reality of the tech industry today.

Code.org’s holistic approach spans curriculum, professional learning, policy, and marketing

Below are examples of the many tactics we use across the work of Code.org to address diversity and equity in K-12 computer science.

Curriculum materials designed to recruit, engage, and retain women and underrepresented students of color

From elementary school all the way to high school, Code.org courses are designed specifically with a focus on diverse and equitable participation by traditionally underrepresented students. This is factored into the curriculum itself. As just one example, our high school course sequencing begins students with a unit on problem-solving, instead of jumping directly into computer programming. This allows students to learn together on an even playing field, even if some students have already learned to code in a summer camp or after school.



As another example, across all the video tutorials we produce, we showcase a wide cast of "lecturers", featuring not only celebrated technologists like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, but also women and underrepresented minorities in computing such as Paola Minaya (Latina engineer at Microsoft), Tess Winlock (female engineer at Google), Makinde Adeagbo (early African American engineer at Facebook and Pinterest), or Kate Starbird (WNBA basketball player, now computer scientist at University of Washington). By casting a wide range of lecturers, diverse CS role models from different industries are baked into our curriculum materials.

The results speak for themselves:

Code.org program Scale (students) % Female % Underrepresented minorities
(Black, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, Native American)
Hour of Code Tens of millions 49% 36% (U.S.)
CS Fundamentals for K-8 Millions 46% 50% (U.S.)
CS Discoveries - middle & high school intro class Hundreds of thousands 41% (U.S.) 50% (U.S.)
CS Principles - high school AP class Tens of thousands 34% (U.S.) 44% (U.S.)

Source: Code.org surveys of students or participating educators

A focus on equity in the Code.org professional learning program and in local work with schools and teachers

The Code.org professional learning program, which helps schools establish new CS classrooms, is driven by a network of regional partners who prioritize reaching schools with underserved populations, particularly in urban or rural geographies. Code.org offers millions of dollars in professional learning scholarships to teachers from schools with low-income or racially diverse student populations, in order for our program to reach these students who typically don't have access to computer science in school.

All Code.org professional learning workshops for teachers include a session on equity and access, to help teachers build awareness of their own stereotypes, and to give them tools to recruit or retain a diverse CS student population. We also hold workshops for district administrators and counselors, who play a critical role in helping students choose their fields of study, in order to guide them to build interest among diverse students for the new CS classes in their schools.

The results are evident throughout our work, but especially in our roll-out of the CS Principles course which was designed from the ground up to broaden participation in computer science. Endorsed by the College Board, this course prepares students for the new AP exam in computer science. Code.org has helped expand access to this course in urban school districts such as New York City, Chicago, or Oakland, as well as in rural schools in Idaho or Alabama. Because of our focus on reaching underprivileged students, there are more underrepresented minorities enrolled in Code.org CS Principles classrooms than the entire nation's AP Computer Science exam takers in 2016!

Changing state level policies to increase participation in CS

Our early advocacy efforts focused on allowing rigorous computer science courses to count towards math or science high school graduation requirements. Polling done by the Computer Science Teachers Association has shown that when women or underrepresented minorities decide whether or not to study Computer Science, a key factor in their choice is whether it counts for graduation credit. In the states where computer science counts towards high school graduation, enrollment by underrepresented minorities is 37 percent higher than in the states where it does not. As a simple example, a comparison of neighboring school districts in Maryland showed this policy resulting in a tripling of female representation in computer science. Overall, comparing the before and after enrollment of states that adjusted graduation policy with our help, we have seen a 24% increase in computer science enrollment by female students.

The Code.org Advocacy Coalition has now successfully changed policies in all 50 U.S. states, impacting not only graduation policy, but also expanding access to computer science, especially in underprivileged schools. When states require and fund every school to offer computer science, increased access disproportionately boosts participation by historically-underserved student groups. For example, by offering computer science in every school, in just one year Arkansas showed a 300% increase in enrollment among young women, and a 600% increase among young black women! Thanks to our advocacy partners and local champions, many states have now similarly passed laws to require and fund schools to offer computer science, and so a similar story is playing out nationwide, with AP computer science participation among young women and underrepresented minorities having grown over ten-fold since their efforts began.

When looking at our advocacy efforts holistically, we see a direct correlation between the number of Code.org-recommended policies established by a state, and increased participation by young women in computer science:

Marketing to change culture and break stereotypes with the Hour of Code campaign

The Hour of Code is an international campaign to encourage students and classrooms to try computer science. Stereotypes and preconceptions are a major contributor to underrepresentation in computer science, especially among young women. The Hour of Code breaks these stereotypes and teaches through experience that anybody can enjoy learning computer science, and that any school can offer it.

A recent study of students before and after participating in the Hour of Code showed that the program causes significant improvements in attitudes and self-efficacy towards computer science, with the greatest gains among female students, especially in high school.

Pre/post study shows attitudes changed after just an Hour of Code:

Statement All high school students Female high school students
"I like computer science" 11% increase 20% increase
"I am better at computer science than most kids" 14% increase 16% increase

The Hour of Code has been offered in classrooms by teachers of all backgrounds and subjects, reaching students globally in over 180 countries.

The results speak for themselves: after hundreds of millions “hours served” reaching almost a quarter of the students on the planet, and with 50% of participants being female, the Hour of Code is the largest-scale effort to introduce computer science to girls.

Besides the Hour of Code, Code.org regularly produces new materials and programs to improve diversity in computer science. As one example, we distribute recruitment posters, videos, and other marketing materials to CS teachers to help them engage more women and students of color in their classrooms. As another example, we reward and recognize individual classroom teachers who set diversity records in their school AP computer science program. As another example, we’ve produced this video specifically highlighting female role models talking about the importance of learning computer science.



The sum of all these efforts — the curriculum design, the professional learning program, the Code.org Advocacy Coalition, the Hour of Code, and countless smaller efforts and initiatives — is how Code.org is holistically addressing the historical problems with diversity and equity in K-12 computer science.

Our own team’s gender diversity

Our team's gender diversity
Code.org full time staff 60% female
Our leadership team 55% female
Our engineering team (software engineers only) 55% female
Our technical staff (software engineers, technical product managers, computer science educators) 53% female
Our extended team of expert facilitators 66% female
The teachers attending our professional development 86% female



We are also proud for USA Today to rank Code.org among the top 25 small-to-medium business workplaces for women, according to the women on our team.