The Ford Research and Innovation Center Palo Alto has announced it will work with Girls Who Code to help close the gender gap in technology and engineering fields.


The Girls Who Code Clubs Program teaches computer science to 6th-12th grade girls. Clubs have been launched in 25 states, helping thousands of girls learn how to code. What’s interesting is the organization’s approach. First, it offers 40 hours of instruction in computer science including project-based activities to reinforce concepts like conditionals, lists and loops as well as skills such as mobile app development. However, Girls Who Code Clubs also host speakers, coordinate field trips and engage with the local tech community. Also, Girls Who Code explains that as Clubs participants, girls have access to a supportive and engaged network of teachers, mentors, professionals and fellow students.


As part of the collaboration, Ford Motor Company Fund, the philanthropic arm of Ford, will support the education and professional growth of Girls Who Code club members in northern California, serving more than 180 young women in the Bay Area. The Ford Palo Alto team will provide mentorship and instruction to club members, and help them engage in hands-on experience at the company’s Silicon Valley research lab.


“The use of technology is growing exponentially among young people, yet it’s becoming increasingly difficult to attract them to technology-related educational programs,” says Marcy Klevorn, Ford chief information officer. “Ford is working with Girls Who Code to educate them on the many exciting career opportunities available in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. This kind of outreach grows more important each year.”


Ford’s national STEM efforts include working with colleges, high schools, founding academies for high school-age students, a high school science and technology program, sponsorship of FIRST Robotics teams and scholarship funding. By supporting education in these areas, the company notes it is working to create opportunities connecting the company and its employees directly with youth and the community to inspire interest in technology and innovation.


There is a particular need, however, for organizations such as Girls Who Code. That’s because while the number of technology-related degrees awarded in the U.S. is rising, women are especially underrepresented in the tech industry. A report from the American Association of University Women earlier this year found that just 12 percent of engineers are women, and the number of women in computing has fallen from 35 percent in 1990 to 26 percent today. Furthermore, the numbers are especially low for Hispanic, African American and American Indian women. Black women make up one percent of the engineering workforce and three percent of the computing workforce, while Hispanic women hold just one percent of jobs in each field. American Indian and Alaska Native women make up just a fraction of a percent of each workforce, according to the report.


“We are especially excited at this expanded collaboration because Ford is an institution with longevity in STEM careers for women,” says Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO, Girls Who Code. “The support will enable us to further our mission of providing young women with the resources necessary to one day work for Ford or any number of other technology companies.”


Clearly, women are underrepresented in the STEM fields, so it certainly is a good idea for clubs, organizations and even mentorship programs to reach out to grade school, middle school and high school girls to not only explain the possibilities of STEM careers, but to support and guide the students as they explore various courses. It will be interesting to watch Girls Who Code and follow the organization’s progress, not only with Ford, but with other companies as well.


What are your thoughts on promoting STEM careers for young women?