When it comes to computer programming, almost half the world is…missing.
Technology giants Google, Intel, Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Microsoft among them readily bemoan the absence of female coders, engineers and data scientists in driving continued growth and innovation. Many have pledged multi-millions to encourage girls to code, yet Verifeed found these companies to be virtually absent from social conversations where their impact on girls themselves is most felt.
Why the social silence?
If companies are serious about getting girls into high school computer science classes and beyond, they need to meet those girls where they are – on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, and Facebook. Moreover, they need to find a way to connect authentically in those social conversations and change the dialogue to make coding “cool” for girls.
Verifeed analyzed the entire Twitter “firehose” to unearth and understand the “who” and “what” talking about “girls who code”, women in tech, STEM, closing the gender gap in computer and data science and other relevant themes.
What we found over three months and tens of thousands of Tweets was shocking: Barring two Tweets from IBM (@IBMResearch, @IBMTraining), one from CraigsList founder Craig Newmark, and one from Microsoft (@MsftCitizenship), none of the Silicon Valley giants or fast-scaling tech startups, were in the conversation at all.
Instead, a young high school senior from Manhattan, who had taken part in Girls Who Code summer immersion program last year, was the biggest influencer of the social media Twitter chatter.
Laura Willson, who attends St. Baptiste High School, Tweeted #STEM, #girlswhocode, and #girlscode and in just four weeks in September 2014, Willson actively engaged 2,558,218 people with 38 Tweets.
So why wasn’t Google or Intel talking with her – and the 2 million plus she was influencing? Google pledged $50 million to its Made with Code program launched in January ostensibly to address the fact only 17% of its tech team is female. And chipmaker Intel pledged $300 million. Their Diversity in Technology campaign seeks no less than full representation by women and minorities in the company by 2020.
What a lost opportunity to inspire the next generation of talent.
Think of the incalculable value left on the table in the tech companies’ collective failure to be relevant to these girls, who could be their future innovators as well as their future customers.
Might there be a higher-impact and more cost-effective “change hearts and minds” targeted interaction strategy on social media? A way to boost from just 12% the proportion of women graduating from college in computer science? We think so.
Right now many of the biggest tech companies are putting their money towards the exemplary efforts of the non-profit Girls Who Code, where our top influencer first Laura Willson started coding. The organization will mentor 1,200 girls in its intensive seven-week Summer Immersion coding programs sponsored by tech companies. It aims to reach 1 million young women by 2020 and is backed by the “who’s who” of tech and some other big names, including Accenture, Adobe, AIG, Akamai, AOL, AppNexus, AT&T, BSA, Craigslist, eBay, Electronic Arts, Expedia, Facebook, GE, Goldman Sachs, Google, Groupon, IAC, IBM, Lockheed Martin, MassMutual, Microsoft, Moody’s, Pixar Animation Studios, Square, The Honest Company, Twitter, Viacom, Intel, Intuit and Verizon.
It is time to get those @GirlsWhoCode corporate sponsors Tweeting and sharing with the girls they want to reach. But how?
Verifeed social intelligence found some clues in the chatter data. Increasing numbers of girls want to code, and they’re making it “cool” and influencing their friends to join them. While Tweet about #GirlsWhoCode summer immersion courses were the most shared, with one in January engaging 237,099 people, the Tweets that resonate the most and amplify the furthest with the girls themselves were those praising girls for coding.
“I am a girl who codes” http://t.co/1C60QBaNbW a very cool blog by @Willson_Laura97 congrats! #STEM #STEMwomen @42born2code #EmTechMIT
When Verifeed started monitoring conversations in September, individual Tweets were amplifying to thousands. But in January when Tweets about #girlswhocode summer coding camps were coming fast and furious, overall numbers of people being reached by individual Tweets climbed into the hundreds of thousands.
But Willson’s numbers were still sizeable, with Verifeed finding she had reached 1,983,346 people with 23 Tweets.
In comparison, Sandy Carter, Vice President of IBM, reflected the excitement around the Girls Who Code announcement in January, with a Twitter reach of 871,763 people with three Tweets. ESO Computing rounded out the top three with 695,576 people being reached with 23 Tweets.
Despite the investment of people and time by the big tech brands, perhaps Laura Willson is the one person who understands the power of social media in changing hearts and minds. She lives and breathes computer science and she wants other young women to see themselves this way, too.
“A shocking 73% of women in tech report feeling like an outsider, compared to 17 percent of men #witi #girlswhocode” Tweeted IBM’s @sandy_carter.
Meantime, a University of Washington STEM Psychology study found that “the stereotype attached to programmers is inconsistent with how women see themselves and how they want others to see them.”
And then there’s Hollywood, with its pervasive stereotype of the “genius coding nerd” as the awkward male loner in the corner. No young girl aspires to that.
So what if we could create a “Katniss of Code?”
These are girls who are cool, bright, and code on their own terms. They are out there on Twitter, Instagram and beyond, and there’s an opportunity for tech companies (including Twitter) to “put their mouths where their money is” to engage them where they meet their friends – on social.
Social affords a precision-targeted opportunity for tech companies – not to mention fashion, beauty and other brands relevant to 13-20 year old girls – to verify their relevance to aspiring female computer and data scientists – and with it inspire a generation of their future innovators and with it loyal future customers.
Melinda Wittstock is the founder and CEO of Verifeed, always looking for female tech talent!
Cathryn Atkinson, a journalist who loves ‘Big Data’ and social media, is a Verifeed contributor.