Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani at ReimagineHR in London (Gartner)
Across a variety of industries, the demand for talent with digital skills continues to outstrip the supply. In recent years, many companies have realized that one way to fill this skills gap is to address the significant gender imbalance in roles like software engineering, where men outnumber women three-to-one in the US and by even larger margins in other countries like the UK and China.
This hasn’t always been the case; women were the first programmers in the early days of computing, before coding was seen as a prestigious and lucrative profession. Yet the real shift toward programming being such a male-dominated profession is even more recent, Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani pointed out in a keynote address at Gartner’s ReimagineHR event in London on Wednesday: In 1995, women made up almost 40 percent of the computing workforce in the US, whereas today, they make up less than 25 percent. And at a time when there are roughly 500,000 unfilled positions in computing in the US and as many as 700,000 in the UK, Saujani argued, the issue isn’t a question of gender parity for its own sake: companies need women in tech just as much as women deserve the opportunity to do these jobs.
So why are so few women taking jobs in computing? For one thing, the tech industry has developed a reputation as an unwelcoming work environment for women: Sexism and sexual harassment scandals have emerged at several major tech companies in the past two years, while women in tech say they are often pressured to cut short the leave they take when they start families, even as tech companies continue to offer world-class parental leave policies. To that end, bringing back women who left the workforce to raise children or care for aging relatives is one way companies are looking to close their tech talent gaps.
Yet a more fundamental obstacle, Saujani explained, comes much earlier in women’s lives.
Girls and underrepresented minorities made up a larger proportion of US high school students taking the Advanced Placement exam in computer science this year than ever before, Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi announced in a Medium post on Sunday:
In 2018, a total of 135,992 students took the AP Computer Science exam, a rise of 31% from last year. Female students and underrepresented minorities showed the greatest increases from last year:
- Black or African American students — 7,301 participants, up 44%
- Hispanic or Latino — 20,954 participants, up 41%
- Female students — 38,195 participants, up 39%
- Rural students — 14,184 participants, up 42%
Last year, these figures grew even more rapidly, increasing by 135 percent among girls and 170 percent among underrepresented minorities between 2016 and 2017: a spike Partovi credits to the launch of Code.org’s Computer Science Principles course. According to Code.org a nonprofit organization that focuses on expanding access to computer science, 70 percent of students in CS Principles classrooms say they want to pursue computer science after graduation, so the organization expects these growing numbers of students to translate into more diversity in the tech workforce down the line.
In a recent post at the Atlantic, Amy Merrick cast a skeptic’s eye on the growing trend of student loan assistance benefits among US employers, arguing that these benefits may not be as helpful to employees as they seem. “For one thing,” Merrick notes, “the student-loan industry is notoriously opaque and difficult to deal with”:
By the time college students graduate, they may have accumulated loans from a number of different places. In contrast with credit-card companies, which typically provide in monthly statements what’s called a minimum-payment warning,student-loan servicers don’t have to tell borrowers how long it will take to repay their loans if they contribute only the minimum every month. … Last year, the [US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] reported complaints from borrowers that student-loan servicers inexplicably returned payments from employers, applied funds to the wrong account, or made other servicing errors that took months or even years to resolve. In some cases, the benefit affected people’s eligibility for loan-forgiveness programs.
She also points out that student loan assistance is not tax-advantaged in the same way a 401(k) plan or a health savings account is. These payments are treated as regular wages for tax purposes, so employees have to pay income tax on them even as they go directly toward paying off their student debt. A bill that would introduce more favorable tax treatment for student loan benefits was introduced in the House of Representatives in February 2017 but has been stalled in the House Ways and Means Committee ever since and was not addressed in the tax reform package Congress passed last December.
Merrick leverages these points to question whether student debt benefits are really any more valuable to employees than a raise. There are obviously issues to be worked out in the implementation of these relatively new benefits, and of course Congressional action to improve their tax treatment would make them more valuable, but to dismiss them outright at this early stage is premature. For all the media attention they get, student loan benefits remain comparably rare: According to our forthcoming analysis of education benefits at CEB, now Gartner, just 7 percent of organizations offer them. Akhil Nigam, the head of emerging products for Fidelity’s workplace-investing division, tells Merrick that up to 90 percent of the employee student loan payments they process have no issues: Not a perfect track record, but hardly sufficient cause to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
McDonald’s announced last week that it was expanding its education benefits program for employees to both increase the value of the benefit and widen the pool of employees who are eligible for it, USA Today reported on Thursday:
Previously, employees had to be on the job for nine months before having a shot at tuition assistance, but that’s been dropped to 90 days. Plus, the weekly shift minimum was 20 hours and now is 15 hours. The changes will make close to 400,000 U.S. employees eligible, the company said. Now, staffers can get as much as $2,500 a year from the Archways to Opportunity program for a trade school, a community college or a four-year university — up from $700. For managers, the figure jumps from $1,050 per year to $3,000.
Some employees’ family members will also now be eligible for assistance. The changes, which McDonald’s attributed to a tight labor market and the savings it accrued from the recent cut in the corporate tax rate, are funded by a $150 million commitment the fast-food giant is making to the program over the coming five years. Since launching in 2015, the company says, Archways to Opportunity has distributed over $21 million in assistance to around 24,000 people.
The program, which is open to employees of both McDonald’s franchises and company-owned restaurants, is offered in partnership with the online education company Cengage Learning. Amanda Eisenberg goes into more detail about how the expanded program will work at Employee Benefit News:
Taco Bell announced this week that after piloting a program to provide employees at 700 of its restaurants with education benefits in partnership with Guild Education, the fast-food chain is expanding the program to 210,000 employees at its 7,000 locations, including many franchises, Amanda Eisenberg reports at Employee Benefit News:
Through Guild Education’s reduced-cost courses and degree programs, both corporate and hourly Taco Bell workers have access to more than 2,000 classes and programs in their pursuit of undergraduate or graduate degrees, college-level education, a GED, or mastery of English as a second language. Combined with the company’s education benefit of up to $5,250 in tuition assistance, paid upfront, and access to federal financial aid, employees are expected to pay little to nothing for the benefit. …
Two thousand Taco Bell employees enrolled in the nine-month pilot program, and 98% of those employees stayed at the company for more than six months, says Rachel Carlson, CEO and co-founder of Guild Education. “That’s phenomenal, especially in fast casual,” she says, noting the retention rates of workers in the program were 34% higher than those who were not enrolled.
Taco Bell took inspiration for its education benefit from Chipotle, which also partnered with Guild Education to help its employees finish college, and McDonald’s, whose employees can earn high school diplomas through the company’s “Archways to Opportunity” program, a partnership with Cengage Learning.
While Amazon’s search for a location for its second headquarters and the opening of its 40,000-plant greenhouse/workspace have made headlines recently, another new move by the Seattle-based tech giant is getting less attention but may prove just as consequential, if not more so: namely, the hiring of Candace Thille to serve as its director of learning science and engineering.
“Thille will work ‘with our Global Learning Development Team to scale and innovate workplace learning at Amazon,’” a company spokesperson told Doug Lederman of Inside Higher Ed, who refers to Thille as a “Higher Ed Superstar.”
Hardly a lifelong academic, Thille brings a balanced background from nearly 20 years working for corporate training company Interaction Associates, LLC, reaching the Executive Vice President level before beginning her graduate studies. She founded the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University, working as its director from 2002-2013 and earning a Masters in Information Technology 25 years after completing her Bachelors in Sociology from UC-Berkeley. She earned a doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania before starting at Stanford. Her research has focused on non-traditional learning, applications of technology in education, and data-driven approaches to training.
“She has done groundbreaking work on using cognitive science and rich data on how students learn to try to transform the teaching and learning process,” Lederman adds. Her move to Amazon, the purpose of which neither she nor the company is discussing in detail, has set education experts abuzz with speculation as to what she will be doing there:
Google is expanding its Howard West initiative, a partnership with Washington, DC’s Howard University, from a three-month summer residency into a full-year program to which students from other schools will be invited. Howard Sueing, a Google software engineer and an instructor at Howard West, announced the change in a blog post on Tuesday:
We’re announcing that in 2018, the program will expand from the original three-month residency to a full academic year—and for students not only at Howard, but also from other esteemed Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The expansion was part of the original program goal, and it’s wonderful to see it blossoming so quickly.
The pilot exceeded our expectations in many ways. Students and faculty noted both the rigor and immersion in life at Google as the program’s most compelling aspects, and the Googlers involved felt there was a true exchange of knowledge, culture and understanding. Almost all of the students were rising juniors, making them eligible to apply for full software engineering internships at Google this coming summer. Notably, when the session concluded, 14 students applied. Four of them received offers, and they all accepted.
This fall, 100 students from Howard and other HBCUs will begin the immersive program at Google’s campus in Mountain View, California, TechCrunch’s Megan Rose Dickey reports.