How early education can close the gender gap in STEM

October 28, 2015, 5:45 PM UTC

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for:What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership? is written by Roxanne Taylor, CMO of Accenture.

Education. There are just not enough women graduating with the science, technology, engineering and math skills needed to become the next generation of leaders. Today, technology is disrupting virtually every industry in every country around the world. And as we look ahead, it’s clear that more and more jobs will require STEM skills, including computer science. By 2020, in the U.S. alone, there will be 1.2 million jobs requiring computer-related skills. This should offer amazing opportunities for people in computer science and with other relevant skills, regardless of gender.

Yet the U.S. lacks graduates with technology skills, and this issue is even more profound when you look at women. Thirty years ago, about 37% of computer science degrees in the U.S. went to women. Today that number has dropped to 18%. Clearly, we are going in the wrong direction. In my view, failing to check this trend will keep us from increasing the number of female leaders.

One way we can help tackle this issue is by focusing as early as possible in the education cycle. We need to get young women excited about math, science and technology, including computer science, long before they enter college. That’s why organizations like Girls Who Code and Code.Org are so important.

Girls Who Code introduces young women to technology and coding in high school. They make it fun, and they talk to young women in a language they relate to and understand. This group aims to provide computer science education and exposure to 1 million young women by 2020. And, Girls Who Code is now helping these young women turn their new skills into jobs by partnering with more than 25 leading companies that have pledged to hire graduates from its programs.

And in an effort to reach students even earlier in the education cycle,, another non-profit, offers a free tutorial in computer programming to students as early as kindergarten. The group is dedicated to expanding participation in computer science by making it available in more schools, and increasing participation by women and minority students. Innovative, engaging initiatives like these show young women the career possibilities that science, technology, engineering and math can provide. Education is key to breaking down barriers to advancing women in leadership and strengthening the workforce of the future.

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