Inspiring Girls to Learn Computer Science

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. This gender gap problem extends to university programs and to the software workplace, which suffer a similar lack of diversity.

While things are starting to move in the right direction, we have a long way to go to reach a balanced population in computer science. focuses on K-12 learning because data shows that experiences in K-12 directly impact students’ future in computer science. Among young women, those who try AP Computer Science in high school are 10 times more likely to major in computer science.

How You Can Help

Computer science is foundational to many fields and students of all genders report being not only interested in the subject but confident of their abilities as well. Despite this, not enough girls are choosing to study it. Here are some proven methods for encouraging girls to try computer science:*

Start by telling them they’d be great at it!

Research shows that around age 12, both boys and girls have a similar level of interest in computer science. This difference is that women are half as likely to be encouraged to explore it. That’s especially important considering that students who are told by a parent or a teacher that they’d be good at the subject are up to three times more likely to be interested in learning CS in the future. Perhaps the single most effective way to get women into CS classes is also one of the simplest: Take a moment out of each day to tell a female student that you think she’d be great at CS.
If your students are in high school, encourage them to take the AP exam too! Women who had the opportunity to take the AP Computer Science exam were 46% more likely to indicate interest in a Computer Science major.

Challenge stereotypes and present positive role models

Research has found that simply seeing someone “like me” can be a powerful influencer for girls, and that spans more than gender. Displaying images of role models in your classroom can be a powerful tool for motivating girls. Defy stereotypes and show a diversity of race, cultural backgrounds, and even passions or interests so that students don’t feel like they have to fit into a particular mold in order to belong.

Allison Faris

Microsoft Developer and 2019 Miss D.C.
What Allison Says

“My goal is to show women and girls how they can turn their passion into a career, leveraging technology as the tool to allow them to do it.”
Miss DC Shares Her Coding Secrets, Media Planet

May-Li Khoe

DJ, Dance and Tech Designer
What May-Li Says

“I’m dedicated to helping build a truly diverse and vibrant community of inventors who know how to listen, understand, question, and be prepared to redesign the world.”

Bonnie Ross

Video Game Developer and Head of Halo
What Bonnie Says

“It is important to have women on the gaming side. It’s about creating worlds that we all want to escape into, and I think it’s about creating diverse characters and interesting storylines.”
Halo head Bonnie Ross: Diversity attracts diversity

Lyndsey Scott

Model and Software Developer
What Lyndsey Says

“Thirteen-year-old girls can easily become interested in computers and technology as long as they're given the opportunity.”
Lyndsey Scott Tells Us What It's Like To Be A Victoria's Secret Model Who Codes In Her Free Time, Business Insider

Miral Kotb

Producer/Choreographer and Coder
What Miral Says

“People who write code, people who dance, people who create the costumes...can all come together into a room and create something magnificent.”
Made with Code: Miral Kotb, Founder of iLuminate

Explain that computer science can impact the world in every field

Both boys and girls care about making the world a better place and may not be aware of how computer science can contribute to this. In fact, only 22% of girls say they’re very likely to one day have a job where they need to know CS.

You can help by showing examples of CS careers that blend academic skills such as problem solving with intrinsic social causes like conservation or medical care. When students see that a career in CS can be rewarding in a variety of ways, they’re more likely to continue pursuing their interest.

Take a look at some great examples of how everyday people use CS in their careers.

Show them a day in the life of a CS professional

Dispel misconceptions about what a future in computer science looks like by using our inspirational videos, many of which feature women in a variety of creative and impactful industries!

Students have positive attitudes about science careers when they’re able to see what a day in the life really looks like, especially if it’s highly collaborative. In addition to videos that dive deep into potential careers, it’s a great idea to connect with a local university or college’s CS department to coordinate a school visit or guest speaker.

“When I work with celebrities, because I know code they instantly respect me and listen to what I have to get the respect of people around you for what you really know how to do and not be afraid to do it will last you your whole life.”

Miral Kotb, Founder of iLuminate

For more ideas, check out these helpful links:

*Our recommendations summarize learnings from interviews with and written materials from CS educators, psychology researchers, as well as material from NCWIT, Google, and other organizations dedicated to growing participation of women in technology.