As a tech mom of a 14-year-old daughter, I'm innately aware of the importance of getting more girls involved in STEM. My daughter's always been bright, curious and interested in science. But she also faces peer pressure that challenges and tests her from time to time.

Girls comprise 56 percent of all Advanced Placement (AP) test takers and 46 percent of all AP calculus test takers. Yet, these smart young women make up only 19 percent of those taking the AP computer science test.

Last summer, on my recommendation, she took a course in computer engineering. Unfortunately, her friends weren't racing to join her. In fact, only two or three girls signed up for the class of 50 or so. To me, that set off alarm bells. Was I expecting a class filled with females? No. However, I was shocked to see that so many girls (and their parents) appeared to be opting out at such an early age.

I've conducted a lot of research in this area and it validates an issue of grave concern - a growing gender gap in technology. There's a widely acknowledged dearth of women in computing fields today, but why?

Girls comprise 56 percent of all Advanced Placement (AP) test takers and 46 percent of all AP calculus test takers. Yet, these smart young women make up only 19 percent of those taking the AP computer science test. Further, studies show that 57 percent of all college undergrads are women and 42 percent of all math and science majors are women. Still, women comprise only 18 percent of American computer science graduates.[1] And this number has been sharply plunging over the years. Back in 1984, 37 percent of computer science graduates were women.[2]

I'm deeply passionate about this issue, and I've challenged myself to turn back the trend. With support from my employer - AT&T, my colleagues in the Women of AT&T Employee Resource Group and I have launched the "GIFT - Girls in Future Technologies" program to show girls how technologies are emerging and changing companies and communities for the better.

We've developed five goals for this program that anyone can use as advice to help keep girls interested in tech careers. Here they are:

  1. Break the misperceptions about tech careers. Technology is widely seen as a field reserved for the nerds who break apart computers at age nine and teach themselves how to code. Girls don't see it as a fun, creative and social subject that anyone can learn with diligence and pursue as a rewarding career with extraordinary growth opportunities.
  2. Help her gain confidence. She'll do this by taking it one step at a time. Tell her not to worry if she's the only girl out there.
  3. Inspire more girls to join in. Girls want to do things along with their friends, so show them how computing can be cool and fun by involving them in creating mobile apps and games.
  4. Show her how tech is a rewarding career. Help girls form positive perceptions of careers and opportunities in tech that might be attractive to them by exposing them to women in Tech.
  5. Fuel her intelligence. Don't let her be afraid of showing others how smart she is. She can make her life richer and make a difference in the world. Encourage her to enroll in coding and tech camps.

The gender-gap issue in the technology industry starts during those impressionable early teen years when girls are forming initial perceptions of careers and opportunities they might pursue. As adults in their lives, it's up to us to put technology and computing careers on their radar. I invite you to help us spread the message of GIFT across the nation and increase the pipeline of female students opting for tech majors in college. Together, we can turn back the trend.

[1] "[INFOGRAPHIC] Technology Is Everywhere, But Where Are the Girls? Statistics from NCWIT." Infographic. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 June 2015.

[2] "Girls Who Code." Girls Who Code. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 June 2015.

This blog post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

About the Author

Shruti Rawat

Principal Member of Technical Staff, Technology Development, AT&T

Shruti_Rawat

Shruti Rawat has more than 15 years of telecommunications industry experience. She’s an engaging leader, influential speaker and a software solutions specialist, working on implementations of emerging technologies in the network. In addition to being a technology leader, Shruti also takes an active role in promoting STEM among youth. She spearheads G.I.F.T. (Girls in Future Technologies), an AT&T employee resource group program that encourages teen girls to pursue IT careers and technology leadership.

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