The gender gap in the tech industry is well documented. But why exactly are there so few women in technology? And how can we encourage more girls and women to become involved with technology and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math)? Importantly, what can companies do to encourage the success of women in their organizations?

The CEO of Girls Who Code, Dr. Tarika Barrett, shares advice for organizations to close the gender gap in technology.

The conversation includes these topics:

Dr. Tarika Barrett is the CEO of Girls Who Code, an international non-profit organization working to close the gender gap in technology by inspiring, educating, and equipping young women with the computing skills to pursue 21st-century opportunities. Tarika has served on the boards of CSforALL, Eskolta, and McGraw Hill, a leading learning science company creating world-class educational content and providing best-in-class digital platforms for learners and educators. She also sits on AT&T's Accelerator Advisory Board and received the New York University's Steinhardt School Dorothy Height Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award.

Transcript

Tarika Barrett: We're at a real moment when equity in tech education is possible and closing the gender gap in tech is something we can do in our lifetimes. I knew that I had to be a part of that change.

About Girls Who Code and Dr. Tarika Barrett

Michael Krigsman: We're speaking with Dr. Tarika Barrett. She is the CEO of Girls Who Code.

Tarika Barrett: We're an international non-profit committed to closing the gender gap in entry-level tech jobs by 2030. We're leading the movement to inspire, educate, and equip young women with the computing skills needed to take on these 21st Century opportunities.

Since we launched the organization in 2012, we've reached 450,000 girls through our in-person programming, 90,000 of whom are college and workforce age alone. For us, by addressing this growing gender gap in tech, we're empowering our young women to seek out the thriving, exciting careers of the future; the ones that are going to offer them the improved quality of life and upward mobility that we know comes with a career in tech.

Michael Krigsman: How did you become interested in this topic, and where did your passion come from?

Tarika Barrett: I come to this space (first and foremost) as an educator and an activist. I've worked nearly my entire career addressing issues of equity in education.

I want to go back a little further. Back in Jamaica, my grandmother had to drop out of school in the sixth grade so that she could work on our family's farm and support her seven younger siblings after her mom passed away. Even though her education was cut short, she got it. She got that education was going to be how she would change her children's trajectory.

Fast-forward a bit. Her daughter (my mom) went on to be the first in our family to go to college and to get a graduate degree. My mom instilled in me the power of education, but always to go into spaces and kind of see the type of work that was necessary but wasn't getting done and to have the agency to believe that I could be the change that was needed.

I want to point to one specific moment that was a game-changer for me in terms of this work. I was at the New York City Department of Education, and I had a chance to lead this portfolio responsible for kids who, frankly, many people had written off.

These were students who were years behind their peers with no shot of graduating high school on time. Most of them were poor black and brown kids who looked a lot like me when I was their age.

I had a chance to do this incredible thing. I led the team that designed and built a first-of-its-kind high school focused on software engineering. It was going to be a part of then-Mayor Bloomberg's plan to make New York City into a tech hub.

But what was hard is that it quickly became clear who this new school was actually going to be for. Everyone had it in their minds that it was going to be a screened school, which means, Michael, that kids would have to test in, in order to get accepted.

As an educator, I knew that if we were going to rely solely on test scores, kids of color would immediately be put at a disadvantage, right? We know the reasons: poverty, disinvestment in low-income neighborhoods, racial bias in testing – for example.

Even though it was tremendously difficult and the risk was that we would end up turning off some of the key stakeholders committed to this school – a mashup of venture capitalists on one side and tech entrepreneurs on the other – I fought against screening. I managed to rally support for our collective decision to open this school to any student interested in programming.

What's cool about this whole experience is that today, I can say that any teen in the city interested in learning computer science has a shot at attending the Academy for Software Engineering. For the kids there, 95% of them are graduating on time.

Getting that school off the ground was one of my proudest accomplishments as an educator, but it was also this incredible lesson that we always have to operate and exist at the intersection of opportunity and bravery. You have to take these chances, frankly, to disrupt the status quo wherever possible.

I know that there's a dotted line from that experience with building that school and being the CEO now of Girls Who Code, one of the largest girl organizations on the planet. We're at a real moment when equity in tech education is absolutely possible and closing the gender gap in tech is something we can do in our lifetimes. I knew that I had to be a part of that change.

Michael Krigsman: You use this term, bravery. You combine bravery and opportunity. Tell us about that.

Tarika Barrett: When I think about even designing the school or before I even was a part of Girls Who Code, to be honest, when people had conjured a software engineer in their minds, they were thinking about Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. It didn't occur to them that a software engineer could be a black girl from Queens, for example.

It would be possible that we could all line up and say, "We need software engineers in New York City. Let's build a school that basically meets the needs." It would be very easy to do what we've always done and then we would have the typical outcomes we see today, which is a field that lacks diversity in every possible way. That's pre-Girls Who Code.

When you talk about the intersection of bravery and opportunity, I also think about things like the recent campaign that we just launched, for example, with mega superstar Doja Cat and the fact that now we have all of these girls (and especially our black and brown girls) who never thought that this amazing entertainer actually is a gamer and thinks about coding.

Now, we've built this microsite, which by the way, you have to check out, Michael, if you haven't. It is so amazingly cool. My teenage kids lost their minds when they actually got a chance to change her nail color and what was happening in the actual video.

It was brave for us to do that (in some ways) because it's not the logical thing that you think to do that has anything to do with tech. Yet, here we are disrupting culture, saying that all these girls can see themselves as technologists in a way that is affirming, cool, exciting, and interesting. They don't have to default to this notion that a programmer is a boy wearing a hoodie in his parents' basement.

I think that, for Girls Who Code, we just live in that intersection. We are constantly thinking about how to have our girls and women (especially our girls and women of color) have opportunities within this sector. And so, we never say no to stepping into that space.

Challenges facing women in technology

Michael Krigsman: You're busting stereotypes, so tell us about the nature of this problem and give us a sense of the size or the scope of the issue.

Tarika Barrett: This is a problem. Gosh, it's so pervasive, but let me start with today.

Today, women make up only 26% of computing jobs. The numbers are even worse for black and Latinx women who hold only 5.3% of computing jobs, which blows your mind.

Half of women in tech say they lack female role models. A third say that they have unequal growth opportunities compared to their male colleagues.

When you look at leadership positions, women make up just 5% within the tech industry. When you talk about women of color, they're completely absent at the senior level with zero black or Latino women CEOs of Fortune 500 tech companies.

To the other part of your question, Michael, in terms of how big the problem is, the issue of diversity in tech is already impacting us in our daily lives and the problem is only going to grow unless we do something now.

Technology meets us at nearly every touchstone in our social and political culture. We're talking security, voting, healthcare.

I've said this many times any chance I get. We don't get to opt out. We don't get to tell our girls, our young women, to opt-out of tech. That's just not an option.

While we know this kind of democratizing effect that we've seen, we also know that there's a lot of harm that we also see at the same time. Tech, as we experience it now, is the result of the priorities of a privileged few, frankly, who share very often a very singular perspective. And so, in terms of the size of the problem, the future of tech depends on a tech workforce that is far more representative of the diverse world we live in today.

Importance of diversity in business

Michael Krigsman: Why is it important to address this problem? It seems like kind of an obvious question. There's an injustice that needs to be addressed. But if you think about it from the point of view of companies who are very short-term focused, why should companies address this issue?

Tarika Barrett: For companies, they serve only a small group of people because that's who has a seat at the table. I want to give you an example from this year.

Facebook ended up issuing an apology on behalf of its artificial intelligence software because it asked users watching a video featuring black men if they wanted to see more, quote-unquote, "videos about primates." Things like this are deeply frustrating but not surprising considering that most people in leadership roles in the tech industry are white and male.

The bottom line is that companies that prioritize different perspectives are going to make sure that the technology we're using every day is more representative of these diverse communities and the fact that our world continues to diversify. Now, if you want to get really pragmatic, it is just simply good for business and good for your overall reputation among potential customers and employees, especially as this world is changing.

Another angle that I want to talk about would be also for workers (when you think about why this matters). Tech jobs are among the fastest-growing and highest-paying in our economy. If you think about it, between 2019 and 2029, we're expecting a growth of half a million new jobs.

These are jobs that pay. STEM jobs pay 26% more than other careers.

I'll offer another statistic that is sort of near and dear to me. When I've talked about the wage gap for black women compared to white men, on average, it's $0.63 to the dollar.

Guess what. In the tech industry, black women make $0.90 to the dollar. Even within that sector, we see that there could be a difference.

Young women who pursue a career in tech are preparing themselves for the labor force of the future, especially what we know in terms of the trajectory that it can offer them in terms of upward mobility and quality of life.

Michael, I can go on. I can talk to you about the customers and usability, society, and its impacts if that's something that you want me to dig into.

The female talent pipeline in STEM fields and technology

Michael Krigsman: It's pretty clear, as you were describing the negative impacts or, rather, we could say, the positive impacts from being more inclusive. I'm very much interested in the roots of the problem. I know some people talk about the pipeline of girls starting at a young age. Can you tell us about that?

Tarika Barrett: Girls Who Code, we obsess with this because we try to figure out how to reach them where they are. But the biggest drop-off we see is between the ages of 13 and 17, what we call that middle school cliff.

Stereotypes about who can and should be coding get really set early on. In fact, nearly 70% of the girls in the computing pipeline could actually come from just changing the path of the youngest girls, especially those in junior high school.

Girls in school (and through culture) if you ask them about men like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Albert Einstein, or Neil Armstrong, they'll raise their hands, right? But will they be able to do the same if we ask them about Grace Hopper, Katherine Johnson, Ada Lovelace, or Jean Bartik?

I mentioned this before. We're still grappling with this notion that somehow a coder is again a boy, first and foremost. Think back, Michael, to the '80s and all those cool gadgets and movies that cemented that that's who codes. Or it's some guy – if you look at some of even recent pop culture things – where it's a guy in Silicon Valley that's about a launch a tech company.

Before girls are even ten years old (believe it or not) they've internalized these cultural touchstones and these internalized beliefs resonate with them throughout their entire lives. We're talking about elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and even into the workforce. We're really up against something that has been instilled in our culture.

Michael Krigsman: We have a question from Twitter from Arsalan Khan (on exactly this issue) who is asking about the role that society plays in discouraging girls from being a techie. From what you're describing, it seems like this is such a profoundly difficult issue and deep issue to address.

Tarika Barrett: I was at a recent speaking engagement. When I was done, a bunch of women came up to me after. We just started to talk about how different it was for us growing up and what we saw and what we experienced.

Then one of the women in the group said, "It's not just how we came up. My daughter literally talked about a T-shirt, you know, 'Girls Hate Math' or some of these really pernicious things that continue to pervade."

How often do you think about the boys in your life—be it a nephew, a friend's son—where you immediately ask them a question about how they're doing in a particular class; have you thought about becoming a coder?

How often does a little girl get that question? When you think about the resources that she's exposed to, if you think about what kind of comes into the periphery of her day-to-day, how often is she asked about being a technologist?

At Girls Who Code, for us, not only do we immediately connect with our girls through direct programming, teaching them to code – and I'll talk about that – but it's also moving hearts and minds and changing the image of what a computer scientist looks like and does.

The campaign I mentioned with Doja Cat, as an example, or things like the Coder Doll that we partnered with American Girl to be able to launch, or a book series about women in tech that is aimed from babies to middle schoolers, we constantly have to kind of operate in a way that really pushes back against these stereotypes, and we are making progress. When we think about what's on TV now or what we can stream, it is a lot more likely to see a girl who is a coder now than it was, and we are happy to take credit [laughter] for a lot of that.

Michael Krigsman: I would imagine that, at those early ages, the level of effort that's required to make an impact – because it's such a pervasive social way of thinking, way of being – it's much more difficult to make an impact there as opposed to later when these girls grow up to be women and they're trying to make inroads in their careers. Is that a correct assumption or not?

Tarika Barrett: No, I think that one is tricky because my understanding and what we've seen is that once girls are exposed to computer science, they kind of just take to it like wildfire. I think what starts to happen in that middle school cliff. When boys and their interest start to peak, that girls, it's easy for them to get turned off because they don't see themselves or to have a teacher or educator that doesn't really push them to be brave and not perfect.

My predecessor, Reshma Saujani, talks about the fact that, in our classrooms, inevitably, during the summer programming, girls would be writing lines of code and the instructor (at the end of the session) would walk around, and there'd be at least one girl with a blank screen. When they'd hit undo a few times, they would see that that girl had actually come really close to writing the correct line of code. But because it wasn't perfect, because it wasn't completely right, she'd erased the entire thing.

We have learned how to teach our girls that they can be resilient. They don't have to be perfect. They can just slide over the finish line with rips in their jeans, leaves in their hair. They don't have to prove anything. We've become really, really experts in teaching girls computer science, which is so much about sisterhood, bravery, resilience, and other traits, just as much as it is Python, JavaScript, CSS, or HTML.

Michael Krigsman: You're teaching the underlying social skills and survival skills as opposed to just "here's how to code."

Tarika Barrett: Absolutely because they go hand-in-hand when you think about what our young women face when they take on that first job in tech. It's that sisterhood that they lean on. It's that bravery because, even in 2021, they continue to come up against not only stereotypes; actual practice that kind of tells them that they don't belong here, or they see it in ways that manifest in not seeing any women or women who look like me in the senior ranks of leadership.

We do that in terms of our instruction with girls as well as our culture campaigns because we know that it's absolutely vital to the outcomes we want to see in terms of closing the gender gap in tech.

Michael Krigsman: We have another question from LinkedIn. This is from Simone Jo Moore who asks, "Has being remote through COVID (rather than working face-to-face in the office) made it easier for women in tech to gain ground?"

Tarika Barrett: I would argue that we're still learning about that. Intuitively, I would imagine that there are some aspects of that in terms of flexibility and synchronous and asynchronous work, which are critical in terms of what women need, and what we are coming to understand has been absent in terms of creating an environment where women can be successful.

I think it doesn't stand alone. I think there are lots of policies that need to be in place, frankly, just to support women.

We lost so many women (during the pandemic) in the workforce because there were no safety nets, frankly, to catch them. It exposed levels of inequity in terms of treatment, the fact that women are primary caregivers, and even in terms of salary and what women get paid. But it didn't position them to make the choice that would be their work.

If you're going to choose between family and your job, women made the choices they had to make. We saw that mass exodus from the workforce as a result.

What's interesting about that question is that we continue to learn about what it is about a virtual world that can benefit women. I'm going to guess that it's the ability to be asynchronous and some of the other flexibility that it allows for that's a plus.

But I think, similar, the other side of the coin is, are these women gaining access to leadership? What does mentorship and professional development look like in this context? We're all grappling with how to keep a vibrant culture alive at our organizations during this time, so I think it's complicated, but I love that question.

Challenges facing adult women in tech

Michael Krigsman: We've been talking just now about women in their careers as opposed to younger girls. Let's continue with that theme. In the '70s and '80s, quite a number of women entered STEM careers, some of them very successful. We've had some amazingly successful women as guests here on CXOTalk. Given this, why do we have this underrepresentation and these challenges that women still face today in technology – adult women?

Tarika Barrett: It's clear that tech companies need diversity of perspectives to function effectively, but we see this persistent problem that they're failing to attract and retain diverse talent.

I want to cite a recent study by Girls Who Code and Accenture that found that half of women in tech roles actually leave by the age of 35. The reason, they cite, is because they felt that their workplace was absolutely inhospitable to women or they lacked more female role models, which I've mentioned.

We've also seen that this lack of representation is just alienating to young people starting with the hiring process. Girls Who Code did a study in 2019, and it showed that half of the young women applying for tech internships either had a negative experience or knew someone who did. We're talking, Michael, about experiences that ranged from sexist and racist comments, a lack of representation, and, in some cases, blatant harassment.

Some of the young women that we surveyed went through five to ten rounds of interviews without ever seeing a single woman or a woman of color. When you talk about a lack of retention of this scale, paired with a failure to attract diverse tech talent, it's going to fuel the gender gap. So much of this is the mix that gets to where we are right now.

Michael Krigsman: What can be done about this? What is holding women back at this more senior level of their careers and what can we do about it?

Tarika Barrett: If we can make our workplace culture more inclusive, we can actually increase the number of women working in tech by three million. It blows your mind to just think about that number.

At Girls Who Code, we try to encourage our partners, and certainly, companies at large, to look deeply at their own practices and interrogate what they're doing that might be alienating young people and especially young women and people of color, or what they're doing to prevent them from being hired in the first place.

Every company is different, so there's no magical blueprint for this type of process. But at the very least, we hope companies have discussions about work culture. What we're really asking is that people keep an open mind, redefining what they see as an appealing hiring candidate, and assessing promotion practices that continue to keep women and women of color out of leadership positions.

I want to say and acknowledge that I know this kind of self-reflection is difficult but it's also the difference; it can be the difference between an all-white male office or an office that more accurately reflects the world that we're living in today.

Another note on this that's important: If you take on systemic racism and sexism—the root cause of a lack of diversity in tech—it will naturally be met with resistance. But at the same time, we all have to be deeply committed to persisting because we know that we stand to gain if we can actually bring more diversity into the tech industry.

Michael Krigsman: When you were talking earlier about girls, you mentioned helping prepare them from a social standpoint to understand the environment that it was beyond just technology. Does this come into play as well for people entering the workforce as adults, women entering the workforce as adults?

Tarika Barrett: I think it does. When you think about it, women have to be kind of prepared and aware – we do this with our committee – to encounter, unfortunately, a sector that isn't quite ready for them. Let's put it that way.

We're asking them to also kind of step into that intersection of bravery and opportunity and know that they can also be the change they want to see. We don't want to put all the pressure on marginalized people to change their environment, but we also encourage women (especially our young women when this is their first entry-level job) to lean on that sisterhood, to seek out the mentorship and support that could be vital in terms of supporting them in their retention within the sector.

A lot of it is eyes wide open. A lot of it is believing that they absolutely have the content knowledge and are resilient enough to have a seat at the table. But we don't sugarcoat it and pretend as though they aren't going into an environment that, frankly, has been proven (if you think about the news recently and consistently) that women are not treated in the ways that they should be within the industry.

Mentorship and role models for girls in tech

Michael Krigsman: Now, you use this term "mentorship," so can you elaborate on that, the importance, and maybe offer advice to women on what they can do themselves?

Tarika Barrett: Mentorship is near and dear to me. My mom actually founded the first-ever mentorship organization in Jamaica, Kingston, Jamaica.

Prior to Girls Who Code, I helped lead a mentoring organization. Even here at Girls Who Code, we have a program where we pair our college-age young women with women in tech because we think those—closer to them, not quite peer—role models are absolutely important.

I'm heartened to hear that the women that you've had on your show totally get it in terms of knowing how critical it can be for young women to go into a space where they don't see a lot of folks who look like them and to know that there's a female leader keeping an eye out, willing to sit and talk about their own journey.

But as I said, Michael, we put a lot of the burden to succeed in the workplace still on these young women and on marginalized people. How do we get the workplaces to still be more conducive to success?

The reason behind the gender gap in tech isn't the women themselves. If you're a woman or someone from an underrepresented background in tech and you manage to get into college, graduate with a technical degree, and you get noticed by hiring managers and get hired, you already have everything, right? You're armed with the qualities and tools that you need to succeed.

Instead, we kind of need companies to prioritize the things that keep women there:

  • Pay equity.
  • Be mindful of how burnout tends to disproportionally impact women.
  • Adjust workloads.
  • Create pathways for success.

If I were to offer any advice for women in the tech workforce, I would say:

  • Do your research when job hunting.
  • Reach out to colleagues and discuss the pros and cons of joining a particular company.
  • Ask early about vacation, family leave, caregiving policies.
  • (This is part of this.) Find your male allies willing to be open about their salaries [laughter] so that you can ensure that you're being paid fairly.

To where the question started, I encourage women to seek out mentors and role models. There's a reason that sisterhood is one of the core values in our programming.

Our definition of sisterhood is expansive. It centers on girls, women, nonbinary femme, female-identifying people. It includes all of our allies.

We know that only as a collective can we kind of create these equitable and inclusive environments. I would say to these young women (or women who are further along in their careers), look for your sisterhood wherever you go. Find your people. Lean on each other.

We all deserve to be lifted up in some way. We have to continue to work as a collective to help transform these companies, as hard as that is.

Michael Krigsman: We have a question (from LinkedIn on this point) from Simone Jo Moore, again, who asks, "How do we engage males and other genders in this program to support women in STEM and technology?

Tarika Barrett: Our male allies are so critical in this because if you think about who has power and who has influence within these companies, it's very much, at this juncture, predominantly white males.

I talk about this a lot because I truly believe that folks want to do better and that it's about shifting thinking. It's about having people recognize their inherent biases.

For these allies, a lot of it is opening their eyes to the fact that not so simple things like treating hiring and promotions as being mostly about filling diversity quotas, right? Being more committed in terms of male allies in terms of creating real systems of support that can boost retention.

We know how critical it is for young people to feel supported in their first job and to get how they understand and frame their future just based on these early years. The last thing we want is for our young people, and especially our young women, to become so jaded with the industry that they opt-out.

Our male allies have a big role to play here in terms of encouraging girls to get interested in tech, getting young people to major in computer science, seeking out the tech jobs (just the same way that, as women, we are doing this).

We had this incredible hiring summit. When the pandemic hit, we surveyed our community, and (for those that answered) 30% of them had lost their internships. For our seniors, 40% of them had lost their full-time employment offers.

We sprung into motion and decided we were going to launch a hiring summit. We did one in January and then another one in September.

For our first hiring summit, we had a bunch of companies come. It was amazing. It was wonderful.

One of these companies hired 17 young women. That might seem small to folks who are listening, but it meant everything to those young women. Not only did they hire them; they created this incredible internal community of support program for them.

You asked a male ally question. This is the work. These are the kinds of things that if we commit to doing can transform the sector.

How to solve the challenges facing women and girls in technology?

Michael Krigsman: Great question now from Lisbeth Shaw – a really, really good question. "What do you see is the mix of solutions in areas like public policy, corporate social responsibility, HR policy, women who have 'made it'? How does this mix come together?"

Tarika Barrett: We are so lucky. As a non-profit, we work with all these corporate partners who support our work. Of course, they have their own self-interest. They want that pipeline to be more diverse. We share that.

I love the question because it's coming at it from a lot of different angles. Michael, I mentioned the fallout that we're seeing from COVID as a result of many women (and others from historically underrepresented backgrounds) having to make the impossible decision between their careers and their families.

From a policy perspective, women are not going to magically not be the caregivers. We have to suddenly start to think about the resources that actually support them with that responsibility:

  • Universal childcare.
  • Paid parental leave.
  • Flexible and asynchronous work hours.
  • Increasing salaries, so women don't have to make that choice.

That's one slice of it. That's within the company.

Certainly, we know that quite a bit is happening out there at the government level. I'm super proud of our founder, Reshma, who has launched the Marshall Plan for Moms and the work and advocacy she's doing there. But even when you think about corporate social responsibility and what we should be paying attention to, that's why we ask folks to support Girls Who Code, programs like ours where we're trying to move the needle.

Right now, we're kind of obsessed with workforce because we have these 90,000 alums about to cement these jobs into tech – fingers crossed. But guess what. We've built this pipeline of 450,000 girls. We can't take our eye off of that. And so, continuing to invest in ways that are disruptive, that continue to ensure that girls are first in line, that's really critical.

Each of you lead companies where you make these choices around where you put your dollars, and I would argue that aligning that in a really critical way that matches your values and where you're committed to moving the needle is essential. If this issue is one that resonates for you deeply, then I would hope that your company that you lead would be at the forefront of thinking about how to leverage any funding to ensure that we're tackling this problem.

Folks who don't know about Girls Who Code in terms of our programmatic work – because I realize we haven't really dug into that – we launched. Our flagship was 20 girls in a classroom (a borrowed classroom) learning how to code over a summer.

Fast-forward, this past summer, we basically taught almost 6,000 girls over the summer. Before it was virtual, it was 1,600 girls and 80 corporate partners across the country.

While the pandemic has given us no gifts, it really pushed us to think about growth and scale in a completely different way. With that, we've reached even more girls in rural areas and places we never thought we could (with our virtual programming). That work is really important.

We also have free after-school clubs where girls get their interests activated. Beyond that, I mentioned the hiring summit. We also have a work prep program and our college loops on campus. If you're interested in supporting girls and young women at any stage of the pipeline, we have programs that contemplate that because it is a leaky pipeline.

As I mentioned, it's easy for our girls to drop out at any point in that journey, and so really getting folks to support this work is vital.

Michael Krigsman: For parents of girls who are listening, men and women who are listening and have girls, what advice do you have for them?

Tarika Barrett: We have to tell our little girls that women do this, that there are people who look like them who have been pioneers in the tech industry.

I think we also have to appeal. Parents, you want your daughters to have viable employment and be at the forefront of the careers that are shaping our culture and our future. I've mentioned that CS is one of the fastest-growing professions in the country and also among the highest paying.

I would also urge our parents and teachers to change the narrative of what a career in tech might look like. Right now, we are inundated with stories about major companies that are—frankly, just to be candid—perpetuating the stark inequalities that exist for profit.

Tech leaders are typically men, ego-driven, wasting all manner of resources on their own whims. [Laughter]

Michael Krigsman: [Laughter]

Tarika Barrett: I know. Michael is holding his head. But it's true.

These stories have created a binary (that we don't want our girls to buy into) that you either have to have a career in tech that makes you money or you have to have a career in tech that you love that helps your community. Nothing could be further from the truth. We need our girls and young women to know that they can do good in the world and find joy, not in spite of their career in tech but because of it.

We did a recent campaign called Make that Change. We featured real women in STEM. We talked about how they were using their tech skills to empower themselves while bettering their communities.

They looked amazing. They were fabulous. It was engaging. And it gave our girls another set of images to contemplate that really moved away from the binary that has become deeply pervasive in our culture.

Michael Krigsman: Well, we have a question from Isabella Wang on LinkedIn. She asks, "Do you think coding is a must need skill for individuals today, kids growing up?"

Tarika Barrett: I think it's not that they have to be some deep Python user or know all of these languages. I think they want to understand the concepts. They want to understand it's frankly a way of thinking. Computational thinking is absolutely critical.

I think that exposure, especially for our girls, allows them to not feel that imposter syndrome when they're in spaces.

We also know that coding is absolutely central to every company, not just tech companies, and so I think that baseline knowledge is actually really helpful.

Michael Krigsman: What advice or request do you have for senior-level women who have totally made it? How can they support this cause?

Tarika Barrett: I think about my own leadership transition where I had this incredible woman of color ask me to take the reins of this dynamic organization that is, frankly, changing our world.

For these leaders, I would really push them to think about how they can similarly uplift other women in their companies, in their sector; to push for things like a cohort model where they don't just hire one black or brown person but, rather, think about what it would mean to bring a cohort of young, dynamic women into the company to not only transform culture but improve the quality of every product that they build.

I think these women are in those seats because they are brilliant and they are empowered. There has never been a better time for them to leverage that power and have a phenomenal impact. I encourage them to build that sisterhood within their individual companies.

Michael Krigsman: What about advice for senior-level men in these organizations, these organizations being technology companies, the people running these organizations?

Tarika Barrett: I had the privilege of going to the White House for a conference on cyber security, and I had the richest conversations with CEOs about this very issue: talent and hiring.

I was struck by the fact that these (most senior leaders) are so disconnected from the people who actually decide who comes into their company. If they begin to have the kinds of conversations and make it clear that they are issuing, frankly, a point of view and a mandate around diversifying the culture of their organization and the folks who get to come in through those doors, I promise you that we will see the gender gap closed.

But I think it's that disconnect, their lack of awareness of how their teams operationalize [laughter] these notions of diversity. Until they unpack that, they won't see the barriers that are systemic, the overabundance on credentialling, and the ways in which we keep marginalized people out, systematically, based on meritocracy, which is a falsehood. I do think if these leaders can dig in, they're going to be surprised at what impact they can have.

Michael Krigsman: What advice do you have for people inside an organization, in the middle levels of an organization (whether it's HR or people hiring for projects or what have you)? What advice or what requests do you have for them?

Tarika Barrett: Continue to seek out folks who support the work you're doing, especially if it's one that is a laser-like focus on talent and diversifying who is at the company.

I don't want to put too much stock into affinity groups because I think, very often, these are important groups but, "Do they have the leadership and the support from the rest of the company?" is always a question that I have.

I think it's again where we started, Michael, that intersection of bravery and opportunity. If there are opportunities to speak up, to lead, to mentor, take it because it's not about always some big, gigantic change that you're making at a company.

If you literally seek out a young woman [laughter] (who is working with you) to really kind of show them the ropes, give them a sense, pull the curtain back a little bit, that can be transformative for that young person. And so, I never want to minimize the small and not-so-small things that people do every day to change the culture of their companies.

Michael Krigsman: What advice do you have for folks who say, "Yes, I want to hire women for specific roles, but we can't find qualified people"?

Tarika Barrett: I would say that's not true, [laughter] so you can't tell me.

We've taught 450,000 girls to code. I think you have to ask yourself if you continue to hire white men for the same jobs, what are the questions you're asking? Are they deeply dependent on the social capital of those men? Are you already assuming that the kinds of technical interview questions that are being asked?

I invite you to turn all of those notions on their head and think about the core qualities, the bravery and resilience of these young women. Half of the ones we serve from historically marginalized groups who are juggling caregiving responsibilities, sometimes a full course-load, work, all manner of things, and yet are successful in spite of it. Those are the traits and qualities that you want represented at your company.

Perhaps your standard practices that continue to ensure that only a certain group of folks get a chance to be there, that's the problem, not that there aren't young women out there for these jobs.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. Dr. Tarika Barrett, thank you so much for being here and sharing your passion about this very important cause, and teaching us a lot. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Tarika Barrett: My pleasure. Thank you, Michael.

Michael Krigsman: Everybody, thank you for watching, especially those folks who ask such great questions on Twitter and LinkedIn. Now, before you go, please subscribe to our YouTube channel. Hit the subscribe button at the top of our website so we can send you our newsletter. Tell a friend. Check out CXOTalk.com and come back. We will have great shows coming up, so we'll see you again next time. Have a great day, everybody.

Tarika Barrett: We're at a real moment when equity in tech education is possible and closing the gender gap in tech is something we can do in our lifetimes. I knew that I had to be a part of that change.

About Girls Who Code and Dr. Tarika Barrett

Michael Krigsman: We're speaking with Dr. Tarika Barrett. She is the CEO of Girls Who Code.

Tarika Barrett: We're an international non-profit committed to closing the gender gap in entry-level tech jobs by 2030. We're leading the movement to inspire, educate, and equip young women with the computing skills needed to take on these 21st Century opportunities.

Since we launched the organization in 2012, we've reached 450,000 girls through our in-person programming, 90,000 of whom are college and workforce age alone. For us, by addressing this growing gender gap in tech, we're empowering our young women to seek out the thriving, exciting careers of the future; the ones that are going to offer them the improved quality of life and upward mobility that we know comes with a career in tech.

Michael Krigsman: How did you become interested in this topic, and where did your passion come from?

Tarika Barrett: I come to this space (first and foremost) as an educator and an activist. I've worked nearly my entire career addressing issues of equity in education.

I want to go back a little further. Back in Jamaica, my grandmother had to drop out of school in the sixth grade so that she could work on our family's farm and support her seven younger siblings after her mom passed away. Even though her education was cut short, she got it. She got that education was going to be how she would change her children's trajectory.

Fast-forward a bit. Her daughter (my mom) went on to be the first in our family to go to college and to get a graduate degree. My mom instilled in me the power of education, but always to go into spaces and kind of see the type of work that was necessary but wasn't getting done and to have the agency to believe that I could be the change that was needed.

I want to point to one specific moment that was a game-changer for me in terms of this work. I was at the New York City Department of Education, and I had a chance to lead this portfolio responsible for kids who, frankly, many people had written off.

These were students who were years behind their peers with no shot of graduating high school on time. Most of them were poor black and brown kids who looked a lot like me when I was their age.

I had a chance to do this incredible thing. I led the team that designed and built a first-of-its-kind high school focused on software engineering. It was going to be a part of then-Mayor Bloomberg's plan to make New York City into a tech hub.

But what was hard is that it quickly became clear who this new school was actually going to be for. Everyone had it in their minds that it was going to be a screened school, which means, Michael, that kids would have to test in, in order to get accepted.

As an educator, I knew that if we were going to rely solely on test scores, kids of color would immediately be put at a disadvantage, right? We know the reasons: poverty, disinvestment in low-income neighborhoods, racial bias in testing – for example.

Even though it was tremendously difficult and the risk was that we would end up turning off some of the key stakeholders committed to this school – a mashup of venture capitalists on one side and tech entrepreneurs on the other – I fought against screening. I managed to rally support for our collective decision to open this school to any student interested in programming.

What's cool about this whole experience is that today, I can say that any teen in the city interested in learning computer science has a shot at attending the Academy for Software Engineering. For the kids there, 95% of them are graduating on time.

Getting that school off the ground was one of my proudest accomplishments as an educator, but it was also this incredible lesson that we always have to operate and exist at the intersection of opportunity and bravery. You have to take these chances, frankly, to disrupt the status quo wherever possible.

I know that there's a dotted line from that experience with building that school and being the CEO now of Girls Who Code, one of the largest girl organizations on the planet. We're at a real moment when equity in tech education is absolutely possible and closing the gender gap in tech is something we can do in our lifetimes. I knew that I had to be a part of that change.

Michael Krigsman: You use this term, bravery. You combine bravery and opportunity. Tell us about that.

Tarika Barrett: When I think about even designing the school or before I even was a part of Girls Who Code, to be honest, when people had conjured a software engineer in their minds, they were thinking about Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. It didn't occur to them that a software engineer could be a black girl from Queens, for example.

It would be possible that we could all line up and say, "We need software engineers in New York City. Let's build a school that basically meets the needs." It would be very easy to do what we've always done and then we would have the typical outcomes we see today, which is a field that lacks diversity in every possible way. That's pre-Girls Who Code.

When you talk about the intersection of bravery and opportunity, I also think about things like the recent campaign that we just launched, for example, with mega superstar Doja Cat and the fact that now we have all of these girls (and especially our black and brown girls) who never thought that this amazing entertainer actually is a gamer and thinks about coding.

Now, we've built this microsite, which by the way, you have to check out, Michael, if you haven't. It is so amazingly cool. My teenage kids lost their minds when they actually got a chance to change her nail color and what was happening in the actual video.

It was brave for us to do that (in some ways) because it's not the logical thing that you think to do that has anything to do with tech. Yet, here we are disrupting culture, saying that all these girls can see themselves as technologists in a way that is affirming, cool, exciting, and interesting. They don't have to default to this notion that a programmer is a boy wearing a hoodie in his parents' basement.

I think that, for Girls Who Code, we just live in that intersection. We are constantly thinking about how to have our girls and women (especially our girls and women of color) have opportunities within this sector. And so, we never say no to stepping into that space.

Challenges facing women in technology

Michael Krigsman: You're busting stereotypes, so tell us about the nature of this problem and give us a sense of the size or the scope of the issue.

Tarika Barrett: This is a problem. Gosh, it's so pervasive, but let me start with today.

Today, women make up only 26% of computing jobs. The numbers are even worse for black and Latinx women who hold only 5.3% of computing jobs, which blows your mind.

Half of women in tech say they lack female role models. A third say that they have unequal growth opportunities compared to their male colleagues.

When you look at leadership positions, women make up just 5% within the tech industry. When you talk about women of color, they're completely absent at the senior level with zero black or Latino women CEOs of Fortune 500 tech companies.

To the other part of your question, Michael, in terms of how big the problem is, the issue of diversity in tech is already impacting us in our daily lives and the problem is only going to grow unless we do something now.

Technology meets us at nearly every touchstone in our social and political culture. We're talking security, voting, healthcare.

I've said this many times any chance I get. We don't get to opt out. We don't get to tell our girls, our young women, to opt-out of tech. That's just not an option.

While we know this kind of democratizing effect that we've seen, we also know that there's a lot of harm that we also see at the same time. Tech, as we experience it now, is the result of the priorities of a privileged few, frankly, who share very often a very singular perspective. And so, in terms of the size of the problem, the future of tech depends on a tech workforce that is far more representative of the diverse world we live in today.

Importance of diversity in business

Michael Krigsman: Why is it important to address this problem? It seems like kind of an obvious question. There's an injustice that needs to be addressed. But if you think about it from the point of view of companies who are very short-term focused, why should companies address this issue?

Tarika Barrett: For companies, they serve only a small group of people because that's who has a seat at the table. I want to give you an example from this year.

Facebook ended up issuing an apology on behalf of its artificial intelligence software because it asked users watching a video featuring black men if they wanted to see more, quote-unquote, "videos about primates." Things like this are deeply frustrating but not surprising considering that most people in leadership roles in the tech industry are white and male.

The bottom line is that companies that prioritize different perspectives are going to make sure that the technology we're using every day is more representative of these diverse communities and the fact that our world continues to diversify. Now, if you want to get really pragmatic, it is just simply good for business and good for your overall reputation among potential customers and employees, especially as this world is changing.

Another angle that I want to talk about would be also for workers (when you think about why this matters). Tech jobs are among the fastest-growing and highest-paying in our economy. If you think about it, between 2019 and 2029, we're expecting a growth of half a million new jobs.

These are jobs that pay. STEM jobs pay 26% more than other careers.

I'll offer another statistic that is sort of near and dear to me. When I've talked about the wage gap for black women compared to white men, on average, it's $0.63 to the dollar.

Guess what. In the tech industry, black women make $0.90 to the dollar. Even within that sector, we see that there could be a difference.

Young women who pursue a career in tech are preparing themselves for the labor force of the future, especially what we know in terms of the trajectory that it can offer them in terms of upward mobility and quality of life.

Michael, I can go on. I can talk to you about the customers and usability, society, and its impacts if that's something that you want me to dig into.

The female talent pipeline in STEM fields and technology

Michael Krigsman: It's pretty clear, as you were describing the negative impacts or, rather, we could say, the positive impacts from being more inclusive. I'm very much interested in the roots of the problem. I know some people talk about the pipeline of girls starting at a young age. Can you tell us about that?

Tarika Barrett: Girls Who Code, we obsess with this because we try to figure out how to reach them where they are. But the biggest drop-off we see is between the ages of 13 and 17, what we call that middle school cliff.

Stereotypes about who can and should be coding get really set early on. In fact, nearly 70% of the girls in the computing pipeline could actually come from just changing the path of the youngest girls, especially those in junior high school.

Girls in school (and through culture) if you ask them about men like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Albert Einstein, or Neil Armstrong, they'll raise their hands, right? But will they be able to do the same if we ask them about Grace Hopper, Katherine Johnson, Ada Lovelace, or Jean Bartik?

I mentioned this before. We're still grappling with this notion that somehow a coder is again a boy, first and foremost. Think back, Michael, to the '80s and all those cool gadgets and movies that cemented that that's who codes. Or it's some guy – if you look at some of even recent pop culture things – where it's a guy in Silicon Valley that's about a launch a tech company.

Before girls are even ten years old (believe it or not) they've internalized these cultural touchstones and these internalized beliefs resonate with them throughout their entire lives. We're talking about elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and even into the workforce. We're really up against something that has been instilled in our culture.

Michael Krigsman: We have a question from Twitter from Arsalan Khan (on exactly this issue) who is asking about the role that society plays in discouraging girls from being a techie. From what you're describing, it seems like this is such a profoundly difficult issue and deep issue to address.

Tarika Barrett: I was at a recent speaking engagement. When I was done, a bunch of women came up to me after. We just started to talk about how different it was for us growing up and what we saw and what we experienced.

Then one of the women in the group said, "It's not just how we came up. My daughter literally talked about a T-shirt, you know, 'Girls Hate Math' or some of these really pernicious things that continue to pervade."

How often do you think about the boys in your life—be it a nephew, a friend's son—where you immediately ask them a question about how they're doing in a particular class; have you thought about becoming a coder?

How often does a little girl get that question? When you think about the resources that she's exposed to, if you think about what kind of comes into the periphery of her day-to-day, how often is she asked about being a technologist?

At Girls Who Code, for us, not only do we immediately connect with our girls through direct programming, teaching them to code – and I'll talk about that – but it's also moving hearts and minds and changing the image of what a computer scientist looks like and does.

The campaign I mentioned with Doja Cat, as an example, or things like the Coder Doll that we partnered with American Girl to be able to launch, or a book series about women in tech that is aimed from babies to middle schoolers, we constantly have to kind of operate in a way that really pushes back against these stereotypes, and we are making progress. When we think about what's on TV now or what we can stream, it is a lot more likely to see a girl who is a coder now than it was, and we are happy to take credit [laughter] for a lot of that.

Michael Krigsman: I would imagine that, at those early ages, the level of effort that's required to make an impact – because it's such a pervasive social way of thinking, way of being – it's much more difficult to make an impact there as opposed to later when these girls grow up to be women and they're trying to make inroads in their careers. Is that a correct assumption or not?

Tarika Barrett: No, I think that one is tricky because my understanding and what we've seen is that once girls are exposed to computer science, they kind of just take to it like wildfire. I think what starts to happen in that middle school cliff. When boys and their interest start to peak, that girls, it's easy for them to get turned off because they don't see themselves or to have a teacher or educator that doesn't really push them to be brave and not perfect.

My predecessor, Reshma Saujani, talks about the fact that, in our classrooms, inevitably, during the summer programming, girls would be writing lines of code and the instructor (at the end of the session) would walk around, and there'd be at least one girl with a blank screen. When they'd hit undo a few times, they would see that that girl had actually come really close to writing the correct line of code. But because it wasn't perfect, because it wasn't completely right, she'd erased the entire thing.

We have learned how to teach our girls that they can be resilient. They don't have to be perfect. They can just slide over the finish line with rips in their jeans, leaves in their hair. They don't have to prove anything. We've become really, really experts in teaching girls computer science, which is so much about sisterhood, bravery, resilience, and other traits, just as much as it is Python, JavaScript, CSS, or HTML.

Michael Krigsman: You're teaching the underlying social skills and survival skills as opposed to just "here's how to code."

Tarika Barrett: Absolutely because they go hand-in-hand when you think about what our young women face when they take on that first job in tech. It's that sisterhood that they lean on. It's that bravery because, even in 2021, they continue to come up against not only stereotypes; actual practice that kind of tells them that they don't belong here, or they see it in ways that manifest in not seeing any women or women who look like me in the senior ranks of leadership.

We do that in terms of our instruction with girls as well as our culture campaigns because we know that it's absolutely vital to the outcomes we want to see in terms of closing the gender gap in tech.

Michael Krigsman: We have another question from LinkedIn. This is from Simone Jo Moore who asks, "Has being remote through COVID (rather than working face-to-face in the office) made it easier for women in tech to gain ground?"

Tarika Barrett: I would argue that we're still learning about that. Intuitively, I would imagine that there are some aspects of that in terms of flexibility and synchronous and asynchronous work, which are critical in terms of what women need, and what we are coming to understand has been absent in terms of creating an environment where women can be successful.

I think it doesn't stand alone. I think there are lots of policies that need to be in place, frankly, just to support women.

We lost so many women (during the pandemic) in the workforce because there were no safety nets, frankly, to catch them. It exposed levels of inequity in terms of treatment, the fact that women are primary caregivers, and even in terms of salary and what women get paid. But it didn't position them to make the choice that would be their work.

If you're going to choose between family and your job, women made the choices they had to make. We saw that mass exodus from the workforce as a result.

What's interesting about that question is that we continue to learn about what it is about a virtual world that can benefit women. I'm going to guess that it's the ability to be asynchronous and some of the other flexibility that it allows for that's a plus.

But I think, similar, the other side of the coin is, are these women gaining access to leadership? What does mentorship and professional development look like in this context? We're all grappling with how to keep a vibrant culture alive at our organizations during this time, so I think it's complicated, but I love that question.

Challenges facing adult women in tech

Michael Krigsman: We've been talking just now about women in their careers as opposed to younger girls. Let's continue with that theme. In the '70s and '80s, quite a number of women entered STEM careers, some of them very successful. We've had some amazingly successful women as guests here on CXOTalk. Given this, why do we have this underrepresentation and these challenges that women still face today in technology – adult women?

Tarika Barrett: It's clear that tech companies need diversity of perspectives to function effectively, but we see this persistent problem that they're failing to attract and retain diverse talent.

I want to cite a recent study by Girls Who Code and Accenture that found that half of women in tech roles actually leave by the age of 35. The reason, they cite, is because they felt that their workplace was absolutely inhospitable to women or they lacked more female role models, which I've mentioned.

We've also seen that this lack of representation is just alienating to young people starting with the hiring process. Girls Who Code did a study in 2019, and it showed that half of the young women applying for tech internships either had a negative experience or knew someone who did. We're talking, Michael, about experiences that ranged from sexist and racist comments, a lack of representation, and, in some cases, blatant harassment.

Some of the young women that we surveyed went through five to ten rounds of interviews without ever seeing a single woman or a woman of color. When you talk about a lack of retention of this scale, paired with a failure to attract diverse tech talent, it's going to fuel the gender gap. So much of this is the mix that gets to where we are right now.

Michael Krigsman: What can be done about this? What is holding women back at this more senior level of their careers and what can we do about it?

Tarika Barrett: If we can make our workplace culture more inclusive, we can actually increase the number of women working in tech by three million. It blows your mind to just think about that number.

At Girls Who Code, we try to encourage our partners, and certainly, companies at large, to look deeply at their own practices and interrogate what they're doing that might be alienating young people and especially young women and people of color, or what they're doing to prevent them from being hired in the first place.

Every company is different, so there's no magical blueprint for this type of process. But at the very least, we hope companies have discussions about work culture. What we're really asking is that people keep an open mind, redefining what they see as an appealing hiring candidate, and assessing promotion practices that continue to keep women and women of color out of leadership positions.

I want to say and acknowledge that I know this kind of self-reflection is difficult but it's also the difference; it can be the difference between an all-white male office or an office that more accurately reflects the world that we're living in today.

Another note on this that's important: If you take on systemic racism and sexism—the root cause of a lack of diversity in tech—it will naturally be met with resistance. But at the same time, we all have to be deeply committed to persisting because we know that we stand to gain if we can actually bring more diversity into the tech industry.

Michael Krigsman: When you were talking earlier about girls, you mentioned helping prepare them from a social standpoint to understand the environment that it was beyond just technology. Does this come into play as well for people entering the workforce as adults, women entering the workforce as adults?

Tarika Barrett: I think it does. When you think about it, women have to be kind of prepared and aware – we do this with our committee – to encounter, unfortunately, a sector that isn't quite ready for them. Let's put it that way.

We're asking them to also kind of step into that intersection of bravery and opportunity and know that they can also be the change they want to see. We don't want to put all the pressure on marginalized people to change their environment, but we also encourage women (especially our young women when this is their first entry-level job) to lean on that sisterhood, to seek out the mentorship and support that could be vital in terms of supporting them in their retention within the sector.

A lot of it is eyes wide open. A lot of it is believing that they absolutely have the content knowledge and are resilient enough to have a seat at the table. But we don't sugarcoat it and pretend as though they aren't going into an environment that, frankly, has been proven (if you think about the news recently and consistently) that women are not treated in the ways that they should be within the industry.

Mentorship and role models for girls in tech

Michael Krigsman: Now, you use this term "mentorship," so can you elaborate on that, the importance, and maybe offer advice to women on what they can do themselves?

Tarika Barrett: Mentorship is near and dear to me. My mom actually founded the first-ever mentorship organization in Jamaica, Kingston, Jamaica.

Prior to Girls Who Code, I helped lead a mentoring organization. Even here at Girls Who Code, we have a program where we pair our college-age young women with women in tech because we think those—closer to them, not quite peer—role models are absolutely important.

I'm heartened to hear that the women that you've had on your show totally get it in terms of knowing how critical it can be for young women to go into a space where they don't see a lot of folks who look like them and to know that there's a female leader keeping an eye out, willing to sit and talk about their own journey.

But as I said, Michael, we put a lot of the burden to succeed in the workplace still on these young women and on marginalized people. How do we get the workplaces to still be more conducive to success?

The reason behind the gender gap in tech isn't the women themselves. If you're a woman or someone from an underrepresented background in tech and you manage to get into college, graduate with a technical degree, and you get noticed by hiring managers and get hired, you already have everything, right? You're armed with the qualities and tools that you need to succeed.

Instead, we kind of need companies to prioritize the things that keep women there:

  • Pay equity.
  • Be mindful of how burnout tends to disproportionally impact women.
  • Adjust workloads.
  • Create pathways for success.

If I were to offer any advice for women in the tech workforce, I would say:

  • Do your research when job hunting.
  • Reach out to colleagues and discuss the pros and cons of joining a particular company.
  • Ask early about vacation, family leave, caregiving policies.
  • (This is part of this.) Find your male allies willing to be open about their salaries [laughter] so that you can ensure that you're being paid fairly.

To where the question started, I encourage women to seek out mentors and role models. There's a reason that sisterhood is one of the core values in our programming.

Our definition of sisterhood is expansive. It centers on girls, women, nonbinary femme, female-identifying people. It includes all of our allies.

We know that only as a collective can we kind of create these equitable and inclusive environments. I would say to these young women (or women who are further along in their careers), look for your sisterhood wherever you go. Find your people. Lean on each other.

We all deserve to be lifted up in some way. We have to continue to work as a collective to help transform these companies, as hard as that is.

Michael Krigsman: We have a question (from LinkedIn on this point) from Simone Jo Moore, again, who asks, "How do we engage males and other genders in this program to support women in STEM and technology?

Tarika Barrett: Our male allies are so critical in this because if you think about who has power and who has influence within these companies, it's very much, at this juncture, predominantly white males.

I talk about this a lot because I truly believe that folks want to do better and that it's about shifting thinking. It's about having people recognize their inherent biases.

For these allies, a lot of it is opening their eyes to the fact that not so simple things like treating hiring and promotions as being mostly about filling diversity quotas, right? Being more committed in terms of male allies in terms of creating real systems of support that can boost retention.

We know how critical it is for young people to feel supported in their first job and to get how they understand and frame their future just based on these early years. The last thing we want is for our young people, and especially our young women, to become so jaded with the industry that they opt-out.

Our male allies have a big role to play here in terms of encouraging girls to get interested in tech, getting young people to major in computer science, seeking out the tech jobs (just the same way that, as women, we are doing this).

We had this incredible hiring summit. When the pandemic hit, we surveyed our community, and (for those that answered) 30% of them had lost their internships. For our seniors, 40% of them had lost their full-time employment offers.

We sprung into motion and decided we were going to launch a hiring summit. We did one in January and then another one in September.

For our first hiring summit, we had a bunch of companies come. It was amazing. It was wonderful.

One of these companies hired 17 young women. That might seem small to folks who are listening, but it meant everything to those young women. Not only did they hire them; they created this incredible internal community of support program for them.

You asked a male ally question. This is the work. These are the kinds of things that if we commit to doing can transform the sector.

How to solve the challenges facing women and girls in technology?

Michael Krigsman: Great question now from Lisbeth Shaw – a really, really good question. "What do you see is the mix of solutions in areas like public policy, corporate social responsibility, HR policy, women who have 'made it'? How does this mix come together?"

Tarika Barrett: We are so lucky. As a non-profit, we work with all these corporate partners who support our work. Of course, they have their own self-interest. They want that pipeline to be more diverse. We share that.

I love the question because it's coming at it from a lot of different angles. Michael, I mentioned the fallout that we're seeing from COVID as a result of many women (and others from historically underrepresented backgrounds) having to make the impossible decision between their careers and their families.

From a policy perspective, women are not going to magically not be the caregivers. We have to suddenly start to think about the resources that actually support them with that responsibility:

  • Universal childcare.
  • Paid parental leave.
  • Flexible and asynchronous work hours.
  • Increasing salaries, so women don't have to make that choice.

That's one slice of it. That's within the company.

Certainly, we know that quite a bit is happening out there at the government level. I'm super proud of our founder, Reshma, who has launched the Marshall Plan for Moms and the work and advocacy she's doing there. But even when you think about corporate social responsibility and what we should be paying attention to, that's why we ask folks to support Girls Who Code, programs like ours where we're trying to move the needle.

Right now, we're kind of obsessed with workforce because we have these 90,000 alums about to cement these jobs into tech – fingers crossed. But guess what. We've built this pipeline of 450,000 girls. We can't take our eye off of that. And so, continuing to invest in ways that are disruptive, that continue to ensure that girls are first in line, that's really critical.

Each of you lead companies where you make these choices around where you put your dollars, and I would argue that aligning that in a really critical way that matches your values and where you're committed to moving the needle is essential. If this issue is one that resonates for you deeply, then I would hope that your company that you lead would be at the forefront of thinking about how to leverage any funding to ensure that we're tackling this problem.

Folks who don't know about Girls Who Code in terms of our programmatic work – because I realize we haven't really dug into that – we launched. Our flagship was 20 girls in a classroom (a borrowed classroom) learning how to code over a summer.

Fast-forward, this past summer, we basically taught almost 6,000 girls over the summer. Before it was virtual, it was 1,600 girls and 80 corporate partners across the country.

While the pandemic has given us no gifts, it really pushed us to think about growth and scale in a completely different way. With that, we've reached even more girls in rural areas and places we never thought we could (with our virtual programming). That work is really important.

We also have free after-school clubs where girls get their interests activated. Beyond that, I mentioned the hiring summit. We also have a work prep program and our college loops on campus. If you're interested in supporting girls and young women at any stage of the pipeline, we have programs that contemplate that because it is a leaky pipeline.

As I mentioned, it's easy for our girls to drop out at any point in that journey, and so really getting folks to support this work is vital.

Michael Krigsman: For parents of girls who are listening, men and women who are listening and have girls, what advice do you have for them?

Tarika Barrett: We have to tell our little girls that women do this, that there are people who look like them who have been pioneers in the tech industry.

I think we also have to appeal. Parents, you want your daughters to have viable employment and be at the forefront of the careers that are shaping our culture and our future. I've mentioned that CS is one of the fastest-growing professions in the country and also among the highest paying.

I would also urge our parents and teachers to change the narrative of what a career in tech might look like. Right now, we are inundated with stories about major companies that are—frankly, just to be candid—perpetuating the stark inequalities that exist for profit.

Tech leaders are typically men, ego-driven, wasting all manner of resources on their own whims. [Laughter]

Michael Krigsman: [Laughter]

Tarika Barrett: I know. Michael is holding his head. But it's true.

These stories have created a binary (that we don't want our girls to buy into) that you either have to have a career in tech that makes you money or you have to have a career in tech that you love that helps your community. Nothing could be further from the truth. We need our girls and young women to know that they can do good in the world and find joy, not in spite of their career in tech but because of it.

We did a recent campaign called Make that Change. We featured real women in STEM. We talked about how they were using their tech skills to empower themselves while bettering their communities.

They looked amazing. They were fabulous. It was engaging. And it gave our girls another set of images to contemplate that really moved away from the binary that has become deeply pervasive in our culture.

Michael Krigsman: Well, we have a question from Isabella Wang on LinkedIn. She asks, "Do you think coding is a must need skill for individuals today, kids growing up?"

Tarika Barrett: I think it's not that they have to be some deep Python user or know all of these languages. I think they want to understand the concepts. They want to understand it's frankly a way of thinking. Computational thinking is absolutely critical.

I think that exposure, especially for our girls, allows them to not feel that imposter syndrome when they're in spaces.

We also know that coding is absolutely central to every company, not just tech companies, and so I think that baseline knowledge is actually really helpful.

Michael Krigsman: What advice or request do you have for senior-level women who have totally made it? How can they support this cause?

Tarika Barrett: I think about my own leadership transition where I had this incredible woman of color ask me to take the reins of this dynamic organization that is, frankly, changing our world.

For these leaders, I would really push them to think about how they can similarly uplift other women in their companies, in their sector; to push for things like a cohort model where they don't just hire one black or brown person but, rather, think about what it would mean to bring a cohort of young, dynamic women into the company to not only transform culture but improve the quality of every product that they build.

I think these women are in those seats because they are brilliant and they are empowered. There has never been a better time for them to leverage that power and have a phenomenal impact. I encourage them to build that sisterhood within their individual companies.

Michael Krigsman: What about advice for senior-level men in these organizations, these organizations being technology companies, the people running these organizations?

Tarika Barrett: I had the privilege of going to the White House for a conference on cyber security, and I had the richest conversations with CEOs about this very issue: talent and hiring.

I was struck by the fact that these (most senior leaders) are so disconnected from the people who actually decide who comes into their company. If they begin to have the kinds of conversations and make it clear that they are issuing, frankly, a point of view and a mandate around diversifying the culture of their organization and the folks who get to come in through those doors, I promise you that we will see the gender gap closed.

But I think it's that disconnect, their lack of awareness of how their teams operationalize [laughter] these notions of diversity. Until they unpack that, they won't see the barriers that are systemic, the overabundance on credentialling, and the ways in which we keep marginalized people out, systematically, based on meritocracy, which is a falsehood. I do think if these leaders can dig in, they're going to be surprised at what impact they can have.

Michael Krigsman: What advice do you have for people inside an organization, in the middle levels of an organization (whether it's HR or people hiring for projects or what have you)? What advice or what requests do you have for them?

Tarika Barrett: Continue to seek out folks who support the work you're doing, especially if it's one that is a laser-like focus on talent and diversifying who is at the company.

I don't want to put too much stock into affinity groups because I think, very often, these are important groups but, "Do they have the leadership and the support from the rest of the company?" is always a question that I have.

I think it's again where we started, Michael, that intersection of bravery and opportunity. If there are opportunities to speak up, to lead, to mentor, take it because it's not about always some big, gigantic change that you're making at a company.

If you literally seek out a young woman [laughter] (who is working with you) to really kind of show them the ropes, give them a sense, pull the curtain back a little bit, that can be transformative for that young person. And so, I never want to minimize the small and not-so-small things that people do every day to change the culture of their companies.

Michael Krigsman: What advice do you have for folks who say, "Yes, I want to hire women for specific roles, but we can't find qualified people"?

Tarika Barrett: I would say that's not true, [laughter] so you can't tell me.

We've taught 450,000 girls to code. I think you have to ask yourself if you continue to hire white men for the same jobs, what are the questions you're asking? Are they deeply dependent on the social capital of those men? Are you already assuming that the kinds of technical interview questions that are being asked?

I invite you to turn all of those notions on their head and think about the core qualities, the bravery and resilience of these young women. Half of the ones we serve from historically marginalized groups who are juggling caregiving responsibilities, sometimes a full course-load, work, all manner of things, and yet are successful in spite of it. Those are the traits and qualities that you want represented at your company.

Perhaps your standard practices that continue to ensure that only a certain group of folks get a chance to be there, that's the problem, not that there aren't young women out there for these jobs.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. Dr. Tarika Barrett, thank you so much for being here and sharing your passion about this very important cause, and teaching us a lot. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Tarika Barrett: My pleasure. Thank you, Michael.

Michael Krigsman: Everybody, thank you for watching, especially those folks who ask such great questions on Twitter and LinkedIn. Now, before you go, please subscribe to our YouTube channel. Hit the subscribe button at the top of our website so we can send you our newsletter. Tell a friend. Check out CXOTalk.com and come back. We will have great shows coming up, so we'll see you again next time. Have a great day, everybody.