Calling All Girls (Part Two): Their Future, Our Responsibility

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about the amazing opportunity and importance of integrating girls into the video game industry, and what does it mean now and in the future. This Part 2, is informed by reading Google's 2011 Global Diversity Report as well as three national events I attended last week: Second National STEM Video Game Challenge; Atlantic Magazine's Second Annual Technologies in Education Forum; and 3) NCWIT 2012 Summit on Women and IT.

This week's post is about HOW to get girls and young women the supports they need to be leaders in the computing-related fields. And, computing is NOT an easy game for anyone to master, especially young girls and women in our culture.

You may ask:
Why is increasing girls participation in computing from a young age is so important?
This week in Chicago, at the NCWIT Summit, we discussed
three key reasons:
  • Improving technical innovation on a national level (by including the other 50%);
  • Reducing social inequalities (by ensuring that girls become able to pursue the 1.4 million well-paying computing-related jobs available by 2018);
  • Ensuring a competitive workforce (because failing to capitalize on girls' and women's talent threatens productivity, innovation and global competitiveness).

Video games can play an interesting role here ... especially if like me you believe that computing and software engineering knowledge and skills are required to conceive and build great games and a great video game industry. In my last post I claimed that the video game industry is the fastest growing industry on the planet and the world's newest mass medium routinely accessed by 72 percent of U.S. households, is representing a powerful economic sector involving capital, licensing, hardware, software, production, production tools, distribution and publishing -- and an ever-expanding universe of end users. I also highlighted that this soaring global industry offers an exceptional career opportunity tomorrow, to those who get the support they need in gaining mathematical and scientific skills, and attaining computer science capacities today.

However, I am persistently bothered by the fact that only a mere 10 percent of the workforce in the video gaming industry is women, confronting an under-representation in what today constitutes a substantive career opportunity (see, for example, The ESA website). Women are underrepresented in the STEM careers, making up just 25 percent of the labor force in science, technology, engineering and math-based jobs, according to NCWIT.

Beyond just an issue of fairness and equality, redressing the overall imbalance is an imperative for the economy as a whole. Many studies show that economic growth is spurred when women are empowered, educated and employed. Google's 2011 Global Diversity Report, states that in the U.S., fewer and fewer students are graduating with computer science degrees each year, and enrollment rates are even lower for women and underrepresented groups. It's important to grow a diverse talent pool of the "technologists-of-tomorrow," because it's integral to the success of the technology industry as a whole. In fact, many leaders of the video game industry claim that for them, it is a matter of sheer survival.

That is partly because women -- and, increasingly, adult women -- are the market for video games. Females 18 and over are the fastest-growing demographic among consumers of this exploding industry. So if game developers are going to be able to deliver the products that will "speak" to their core market, it behooves them to add more women to their employee ranks. That means a long list and diverse range of job and career opportunities coming online over the next decades for those women qualified or at least comfortable in the skills and capabilities that video game development requires.
What kind of jobs are we talking about?
  • Good, stable ones: well-paying, career-building jobs.
  • The annual salary range for the average female senior software developer -- with a BA degree only -- is between $74,660 and $100, 591 dollars per year (according to Payscale).
  • And, the Department of Labor tells us that of the 20 occupations that provide women their highest median earnings, five are computing occupations: software engineers, computer and information systems managers, computer programmers, computer scientists and systems analysts, and network systems and data communications analysts -- all needed in the video game industry.
  • That industry also needs game designers, game producers, digital artists and publishers; creative script writers and character developers;
  • As well as administrators for distribution, logistics and inventory control; managers who can do strategic planning, marketing, online communications and usability research; teachers and trainers to prepare girls for these jobs;
  • Public relations aces who understand the business and the science so they can broadcast developments, outsourcers and outsourcees;
  • And of course, consultants to add specific expertise.

In summary, there is a universe of career potential for those who know and understand the power of video gaming and how to make them, and it represents a formidable opportunity for economic advancement and personal fulfillment for those able to seize the opportunity.

There can be no question about girls' ability to do so. There may be an academic debate over gender differences and cognitive style and function, but there is no debate over girls' ability to perform and indeed excel in mathematical and computational thinking, engineering and science fields (e.g., in 2011-12 at MIT, 1,963 women are enrolled as undergraduates (45 percent) and 2,056 as graduate students (32 percent). From what I hear in conversations with young women who dared to step in and discover their "STEM-Power," right now, in fact, the only thing holding most girls back from acquiring the computer science education they need in order to gain their rightful place in technology careers is an antiquated cultural attitude. This has already been demonstrated in the legal and medical professions, to name just two: Open up the (medical and legal) classrooms to girls and women, and the antiquated cultural attitude crumbles as women take their rightful place in a workforce once considered the province of men only.

All this adds up to a formidable responsibility for educators, community leaders, corporate leaders, government leaders, parents and all concerned citizens -- namely, the responsibility to ensure that girls today not only can acquire the needed skills and develop the required capabilities they need to be able to equally seize tomorrow's opportunities, but also to be exposed to various hands-on learning opportunities to be inspired and dream about their varied future possibilities in these fields.

Here is the good news:
Fortunately, around the country, there are several organizations partnering in a widening network of initiatives to ensure that this will happen -- that our daughters and granddaughters will have the chance, if they want it, to pursue STEM careers, and certainly in those careers requiring computational thinking, engineering and computer science expertise. My team and I have been involved in many of these mission-filled initiatives in this area, and I am excited to help my readers to click, explore and support.

NCWIT, for example, through its K-12 Alliance, is working with partners like technology giants, ed-tech entrepreneurs (e.g., my company), girls clubs, public schools, colleges and universities, non-profits, and educational associations on programs to make girls more interested in and confident about computers and computing; while its Workforce Alliance, completes the mission by working with tech companies (e.g., Cisco, Microsoft, Avaya, Bank of America) on recruiting, retaining, and developing women of all ethnic backgrounds in technical jobs.

The AMD Foundation, has also been targeting girls in their impressive portfolio of Changing the Game programs. Most recently, they partnered with The Entertainment Software Association to support the National STEM Video Games Challenge, a competition whose main goal is to motivate general interest in STEM among Americans by tapping into young people's natural passion for playing video games.

It is important to differentiate, however, those STEM initiatives that seriously cultivate computing education and develop computer science skills among learners, which are usually more intense, and quite different than the typical ed-games and ed-tech uses in the classroom.

Here is a concrete, living example: My organization, the World Wide Workshop, is an AMD partner, ESA partner, NCWIT partner and also a National STEM Video Game Challenge partner. With our signature program, Globaloria, a learning network and game-making platform and curriculum, we aim precisely at teaching computational literacies and computer science skills to young learners, without excluding or intimidating female students and teachers. In addition to introducing girls to software design and computer programming (in grades 6-12) using a super structured pedagogy in schools, afterschool clubs and summer camps, Globaloria also emphasizes a set of essential accompanying skills to computing of critical thinking, content research, problem-solving, analysis and collaboration with others -- practiced by teaching how to create and code their own videogames or science simulations.

A young girl from West Virginia presents to her peers a game she created to combat teen-age pregnancy. Photo by World Wide Workshop.

The key idea: Innate penchant for or interest in mathematics or computers is a plus but NOT required; rather, girls come to experience the computational process through having an initial interest in a social or environmental issue that matters to them, or struggling with a concept they want to teach to others -- and that interest is what drives them to learn to develop an educational game on that subject, and they experience/learn computing and mathematics along the way!

Girls also like to learn to invent, produce, work in teams and collaborate fluently online with peers, teachers and experts who provide remote support at critical moments of frustration or satisfaction. In a few semesters of daily work (adding up to 100-150 hours per year), they can go from an idea sketched on paper through the process of art and design, prototyping, programming, revising, debugging, rethinking, editing, re-doing and finally presenting the finished game to an audience of game-players.
  • Watch a Short Video of Alexia and Qianna, who started Globaloria in the 9th grade, talk about how the program turned them from tech-novice to tech-master in one year, and from a classroom participants to programmers and peer-mentors. Listen to them talk about learning computer programming in FlashActionscript, and how coding a video game prepares them to college-style research on topics of importance to them and a window into a possible career.
Today's Globaloria girls are in middle and high schools are from rural and under-served districts in West Virginia to the urban heart of Brooklyn, New York, or Hillsborough County, the nation's 8th largest school district in Tampa, Florida; from a new charter school in East Austin, Texas, where few students speak English as a first language, to a community-wide transformation in the "other" Silicon Valley in California. They have made games on topics as diverse as the environment, fractions, Roman Empire history, healthy food and jazz music.
As they work on a global learning network to create educational video games on subjects that excite them, they are learning-by-doing essential computational and digital communication skills that can open up the kind of rich future they might otherwise be unable to access. Most importantly, they learn computer programming, the new language of the digital economy.

Two girls from Texas collaborate on designing a game about environmental issues and recycling. Photo by the World Wide Workshop.

Girls and women can be future leaders in diverse fields, including mathematics, science, engineering and computational technologies -- and it is our duty as corporations, universities, entrepreneurial companies, as well as parents, teachers, mentors and friends to provide engaging and relevant computational learning opportunities that will inspire them to go confidently in the direction of their chosen path.

So here we are Globaloria girls, and all girls, teachers and partners: Calling All Girls to join the national and global computing revolution and participate+contribute+benefit from the fast-growing and wondrous video game industry and its related new computational literacies and skills!