Susan Wojcicki: A ‘Sputnik’ moment for women in technology

Editor’s Note: Susan Wojcicki is CEO of YouTube. She was previously senior vice president of advertising and commerce at Google. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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Susan Wojcicki: The dearth of women in tech should be a wake-up call -- a Sputnik moment for America

She says the United States should offer computer science class to every student and eventually make it mandatory

CNN  — 

My daughter was 10 years old when she told me she hated computers.

As someone who has spent her career helping build one of the largest tech companies in the world, I was in shock. Suddenly an issue I faced repeatedly at work — the lack of women in tech — hit squarely at home.

The story may sound familiar: We had one computer at home and in my daughter’s words, my son “had conquered it.” For good measure, she added that it was “super lame” to like computers and she had better things to do in her busy life.

Today, this same pattern is playing out in homes throughout America. Girls are being left out of the conversation when it comes to technology, led to think of tech as insular and antisocial without ever being given a chance to correct those perceptions.

Despite earning the majority of bachelor’s degrees, women earn only 12.9% of computer science degrees, according to the Computing Research Association. These statistics have serious implications for our economy and for women at large. By 2020, jobs in computer science are expected to grow nearly two times faster than the national average, totaling nearly 5 million jobs. Yet today, women hold only 26% of all tech jobs, according to the American Association of University Women.

The fact that women represent such a small portion of the tech workforce shouldn’t just be a wake-up call – it should be a Sputnik moment. The tech industry is not America’s future; it is our present. From manufacturing to health care to agriculture to the arts, technology is revolutionizing every industry at an unprecedented pace, remaking the world in its wake.

If women don’t participate in tech, with its massive prominence in our lives and society, we risk losing many of the economic, political and social gains we have made over decades. We’d be setting ourselves back in an era when we should be solidifying and strengthening our progress.

That’s why I was so encouraged to see Mayor Bill de Blasio call for all New York schools to offer computer science courses within the next 10 years. Not only will this help the city’s students prepare and compete for future jobs, it will have an outsize effect on women, minorities and the poor, who have the least access to computer science education.

The only way we can address the problem of women in tech while preparing our students for a competitive future is for more states and districts to follow New York City’s lead and offer computer science to every student in the United States with the eventual goal of making it mandatory.

Related: Molding the next generation of computer scientists

Already some large districts have instituted similar proposals. In San Francisco, the Board of Education voted to offer CS from prekindergarten through high school and to make it mandatory through eighth grade by the 2016-17 school year. And in Chicago, the city has pledged to make a yearlong CS course a high school graduation requirement by 2018.

Other countries are beginning to institute similar standards. Last year, the United Kingdom became the first country in the European Union to mandate computer science classes for all children between 5 and 16 years old, with Italy soon following suit. And Israel and South Korea have some of the most rigorous computer science curriculums in the world.

It’s undeniably true that many schools are strapped for resources and consistently face budget challenges. But according to research Google commissioned with Gallup, nine out of 10 parents see CS as a good use of school resources and two-thirds think it should be required learning. That view only gets stronger among lower-income households.

If we don’t make CS a priority by requiring schools to offer it, we risk making gender, class and racial gaps worse as income and opportunity flow to students who are given the chance to sit behind a computer.

My daughter loves computers now. I enrolled her in an all-girl coding camp where she started to see that technology could make her own world better. It’s a heartwarming story in my household. But unless we act to make sure CS is offered in every school, millions of girls throughout America will never have the same opportunity.

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