Coding Q&A

Things to know about a new initiative Google launched called "Made With Code."

WHAT IS IT?: It's an effort to get more girls involved in computer programming. A new website features female role-model techies who write software to design fabrics or choreograph dances. Google is also offering $50 million in grants to support girls coding.

WHY IS GOOGLE INVOLVED?: "Coding is a new literacy ... . We've got to show all girls that computer science is an important part of their future and that it's a foundation to pursue their passions, no matter what field they want to enter," says Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube and early Google employee.

DO GIRLS CODE NOW?: Less than 1% of high school girls think of computer science as part of their future, even though it's one of the fastest-growing fields in the U.S. today with a projected 4.2 million jobs by 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Female participation in computer sciences has dropped to 18%, from 37% in the 1980s. Just 20% of the 30,000 students who took the 2013 Advanced Placement computer science test were girls, according to a College Board analysis.

DO WOMEN WORK IN TECH?: Tech firms are overwhelmingly male. Yahoo has released a report showing 62% of its employees are men. At Google, about 70% of the 44,000 people it employs are men. That's typical; about 30% of computer scientists in the U.S. are women.

Associated Press

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. - Diana Navarro loves to code, and she's not afraid to admit it. But the 18-year-old Rutgers University computer science major knows she's an anomaly: Writing software to run computer programs in 2014 is - more than ever - a man's world.

"We live in a culture where we're dissuaded to do things that are technical," Navarro said. "Younger girls see men, not women, doing all the techie stuff, programming and computer science."

Less than 1 percent of high school girls think of computer science as part of their future, even though it's one of the fastest-growing fields in the U.S. today with a projected 4.2 million jobs by 2020, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Now, Google, with a driverless car and Web-surfing eyeglasses under its belt, has given The Associated Press an early look at how it's trying to change the gender disparity in its own workforce, and in the pipeline of potential workers, by launching a campaign called "Made with Code."

The initiative begins with an introductory video of girls- silly, serious and brave - meeting President Barack Obama, painting over graffiti and goofing around. The narrator says: "You are a girl who understands bits exist to be assembled. When you learn to code, you can assemble anything that you see missing. And in so doing, you will fix something, or change something, or invent something, or run something, and maybe that's how you will play your bit in this world."

A Web site features female role-model techies who write software to design cool fabrics or choreograph dances. There are simple, fun coding lessons aimed at girls and a directory of coding programs for girls. The search giant is also offering $50 million in grants and partnering with Girls Who Code, a nonprofit launched in 2012 that runs summer coding institutes for girls, including the one that helped focus Navarro's passion for technology.

A preview test run of Google's online coding lessons last week was deemed "awesome" by Carmen Ramirez y Porter, 11. "It's not very complicated. It's easy and fun and really cool to see how it turns out when you finish," she said.

Pivotal moment

National Center for Women & Information Technology CEO Lucy Sanders, a leading advocate for women in computer sciences, sees the Made With Code initiative as a pivotal moment in what has been a long-term challenge of getting more girl geeks growing up in America.

"It used to be that as a computing community we didn't really talk about gender issues. But now we're really pulling together, from corporations and startups to nonprofits and universities," Sanders said. "I'm very optimistic."

There's plenty of room for change.

Female participation in computer sciences has dropped to 18 percent, down from 37 percent in the 1980s, and only 7 percent of U.S. venture capital deals go to women founders and CEOs. Just 20 percent of the 30,000 students who took the Advanced Placement computer science test last year were girls, says a College Board analysis.

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, one of the earliest Google employees, points to societal and economic drawbacks if women are not participating in the booming tech economy.

Tech firms are overwhelmingly male. Yahoo released a report showing 62 percent of its global employees are men. At Google, about 70 percent of the roughly 44,000 people it employs in the world are men. This year, the search giant commissioned a nationwide study to find out why so few women pursue technology careers, asking 1,600 people about whether they were encouraged to study computer sciences and had opportunities to learn to code.

Their findings: Girls have little exposure to technology and computer sciences. But that doesn't mean they're not interested. If parents, friends and teachers encourage girls to pursue computer sciences, schools offer more courses and more role models step forward, the field can be leveled.

Fun factor

But to capture girls, it's got to be fun.

That's was the plan for a "Made With Code" kick-off event in New York last week for 150 girls, where indie rockers performed and coders could demo how they make everything from animated movies to designer fabrics with software. Actress Mindy Kaling, the event's master of ceremonies, said she fights gender bias in Hollywood, but when a techie friend told her about Silicon Valley's gender gap "it was staggering."

"Just as television and movies need to reflect their audience, I think it's important that people who create technology reflect the diversity of people who use them," she said.

Chelsea Clinton represented the Clinton Foundation at the event. "Ultimately, computer science is helping to create the future," she said. "So when we think about the future, we know we need to be doing more in this country and around the world to ensure that girls and women see computer sciences as real, viable options for them."

Entrepreneur Dez White wasn't necessarily pursuing a tech career when she asked a patron at her family's restaurant to teach her to write software. She just had an idea for an app and wanted to make it.

"It was very hard for me to get my head around it," White said. "I didn't go to Stanford for code."

Today, she hires coders for her firm Goinvis, which sells privacy apps that allows users to send texts that self-destruct and emails that disappear.

But as a successful female African-American entrepreneur, she knows she needs to be a mentor. "I think young women don't even realize computer sciences are an option. It's not laid out like nursing and social work."