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National STEM Day: Closing the Gap for Women and Girls of Color in Technology

Kara Sprague サムネール
Kara Sprague
Published November 08, 2020
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As a young girl, I was lucky to be exposed to computers through my grade school lab and the family x86 personal computer my dad brought home when I was 10. My first exposure to programming was spending many hours typing out lines of basic commands that, when run, produced images of fractals. I learned how small tweaks in the commands could change the colors, the shapes, and the number of recursions. By middle school, I was dialing into bulletin boards to join online multi-player games that would play out in sequences of ASCII characters. In high school, while I never lost my affinity for computers, my interests turned more to the arts and social sciences. So much so that by my junior year of high school, my career ambition was to be a lawyer. I was convinced that I had an illustrious career ahead of me—majoring in Political Science in an East Coast school, acing my LSATs, becoming editor of the Law Review, and dominating the highest courts in the land. Ahh, youth.

I now consider myself fortunate that my path into law became less appealing when I did not get into the college of my choice. Instead, I went to an engineering school just down the road from my first-choice school that nurtured my passion for technology and opened doors that I never thought existed.

That is part of why I attribute my resulting career in technology to sheer good luck. No one told me—an ambitious high school student with good grades—to go into science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM). It was assumed I leaned towards the liberal arts. If it had not been for the idiosyncrasies of college admissions, that is where I likely would have ended up.

Because while I enjoyed every advantage and privilege, the fact remains then just as it does today—that girls are chronically under-represented in STEM. And the situation, I am sorry to say, is getting even worse, and most especially when it comes to girls and women of color. Over the past decade, the percentage of students receiving computer and information sciences degrees who were Black, Latina, and Native American women fell by nearly 40%.

As a board member of Girls Who Code, I have witnessed this trend firsthand, and watched with alarm that the path I took through the tech sector is becoming more exclusive and less inclusive. For an industry that prides itself on relentless improvement, this is hardly the direction we should be going in.  

These alarm bells have been going off at F5 too. In 2019, when we launched F5 Global Good, one of our very first steps was to join the Reboot Representation Tech Coalition, a coalition of 17 companies committed to doubling the number of Black, Latina, and Native American women receiving computing degrees by 2025. As a result, we have focused our Global Good efforts in STEM education specifically for women and girls of color and committed $1.5M in U.S. grants over three years to support programs whose direct beneficiaries are at least 50% women and girls of color. For F5’s 2020 STEM education grants, we proudly granted $550,000 to fifteen nonprofits organizations across eight countries where we live and work—including the United States, South Africa, France, Israel, India, Mexico, India, and Singapore. Our U.S. nonprofits had geographic focuses in Seattle and Spokane, the Bay Area, and Los Angeles, as well as organizations with a national reach. We funded across four different areas of need to increasing access and representation for women and girls of color in STEM which included education reform, digital equity, instructor development, and retention, as well as student access and development. Additionally, we prioritized supporting organizations that are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) led.

While such grants are not going to reverse the most alarming declines in STEM representation alone, F5’s commitment is a step in the right direction—as is evident from the amazing organizations around the world that F5 is proud to support below.

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F5’s U.S. 2020 STEM education partners:

Education Reform

Technology Access Foundation (TAF)* – Since 1996, Technology Access Foundation has provided STEM programming to over 20,000 students through partnerships with public schools and a dedicated school, where students have achieved a 95% college acceptance rate. TAF partners with existing public school districts to implement what is known as the STEMbyTAF Project Based Learning (PBL) Academic Learning Model—an approach that helps schools create academic environments that eliminate race-based disparity in academic achievement and promote the highest level of student learning and teacher development to ultimately redefine STEM and PBL education in public schools.  

Digital Equity

The Washington State Academic RedShirt (STARS) program in Engineering at the University of Washington (UW)* – STARS was founded in 2013 to enable Washington students from first-generation and low-income backgrounds, students who typically enter UW with poor science and math preparation, to succeed in obtaining bachelor’s degrees in engineering or computer science from UW. STARS is a two-year program with a specialized curriculum designed to build learning skills and provide students with additional support for the transition to college-level courses. 85% of female STARS scholars are women of color. F5’s grant funded laptops for the 28-student freshmen cohort.

Instructor Development & Retention

Thurgood Marshall College Fund* – Since 1987, TMCF has provided over $300M to partner schools and students at publicly supported historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and predominantly black institutions for supporting students into college, through college, and into a career. F5’s grant will be supporting 65 teachers' participation in the TMCF’s 5-year Teacher Quality & Retention Program (TQRP) Fellowship that targets HBCU-educated low-participation teaching populations, including STEM majors interested in teaching; non-STEM education majors seeking STEM certification; and K-8 Generalist teachers wishing to increase their STEM competency. 75% of TQRP Fellows are women, 98% are Black/African American, and 85% of the 2020-21 Fellows teach in Title I schools.

Techbridge Girls* – For over 20 years, TBG has engaged over 7,800 girls directly through after-school programs and 70,000 girls through partnerships with youth-serving groups from low-income communities by delivering high-quality STEM programming that empowers them to achieve economic mobility and better life opportunities. The F5 grant will support TBGs Inspire & ChangeMakers Programs, equipping 41 educators with training, culturally-responsive curriculum, on-site observation, coaching, and evaluation for 12 & 16 weeks (respectively) to increase high-quality STEM enrichment for elementary and middle school girls from low-income communities in Title I schools and predominantly low-income community sites in Seattle and the Bay Area.

Student Access & Development

FIRST Washington Robotics – Since 2011, FIRST has worked to improve STEM equity, access, and inclusion to the most disadvantaged youth in communities which lack resources for over 15,000 students in most of Washington state’s counties. F5’s grant will support FIRST’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiative to fund teams with 50% female participation and/or 50% more from underrepresented communities in King, Pierce, and Spokane counties in Washington.

Girls Who Code* – In 8 years, Girls Who Code has reached over 300,000 girls through their in-person and virtual programming as part of their mission to close the gender gap in technology. GWC offers their free and downloadable Code at Home activities, Summer Immersion, and Alumni programming as well as hosts free after-school clubs that are available in all 50 states where 50% of the girls served are from historically underrepresented groups. The F5 grant will help GWC expand their clubs for 3rd-5th and 6th -12th grade girls.

Black Girls CODE* – Since 2011, Black Girls CODE has hosted tech education-focused programming and initiatives for more than 20,000 low-income youth ages 7 to 17 to level the playing field for girls of color in STEM. BGC aims to inspire youth to become leaders in STEM fields as well as in their communities. F5’s grant will support Black Girls CODE Chapter workshops and enrichment events in Seattle, the Bay Area, and Los Angeles.

United Negro College Fund* – For over 75 years, UNCF has helped over 500,000 students go to and complete college at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Annually, UNCF administers over 400 academic scholarships to over 60,000 African American students to ensure college education remains accessible for all deserving students. The F5 grant will provide 10 scholarships for UNCF’s women in STEM initiative.

*Denotes that the organization is Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) led.

F5’s international 2020 STEM education partners:

Israel

Alice Code was established in order to address educational, employment and gender needs in the technology field in Israel.

Presentense promotes an inclusive society, one where diverse communities are equally represented in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Israel.

France

Techfugees #TF4Women Fellowship Program provides 6 months of free support for refugee women to obtain jobs in tech through training, practical knowledge, and one-on-one mentoring with professionals in the tech sector. 

Singapore

United Women Singapore Girls2Pioneers Program supports girls, especially those from disadvantaged and marginalized backgrounds, to encourage them to take up STEM subjects in their higher education and careers, thus paving the way for a more gender equal society.

India

Udayan Care Shalini Fellowship is an educational and personal development program for deserving and talented girls from underrepresented socio-economic backgrounds.

Mexico

Mentoralia works to inspire and train girls to become leaders in technology and entrepreneurship.

South Africa

Molo Mhlaba has created a unique iSTEAM (innovation, science, technology, engineering, arts/design, and math) curriculum that empowers girls to explore new academic opportunities and take control of their education.

(Blog includes source data from: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, National Center for Education Statistics, nces.ed.gov)