Over the last few years, and arguably punching way above its weight, Code First: Girls has been doing important work. The U.K. social enterprise, which originally spun out of company builder Entrepreneur First, has already taught more than 5,000 women to code, with the broader aim of helping to close the gender gap in the country’s tech industry and tackle the tech skills shortage in general.
Today the organisation is upping the stakes, kicking off a campaign to teach 20,000 young women in the U.K. and Ireland how to code for free by the end of 2020. To help achieve this, Code First: Girls is running a crowdfunding campaign, in addition to working with partners and backers from leading employers, including KKR and OVH, to train young women at the start of their careers.
Specifically, I’m told the programme will offer training support to employees from the “2020 campaign”-supporting partner companies, with the opportunity to train their young female staff and gift free coding courses on the partner’s behalf to other young women.
In addition to the training, Code First: Girls is building a community platform to support the course alumnae so that they cam learn from and support each other. And, perhaps smartly, through the platform, the campaigns’ “top tier” partners will get access to the eventual pool of 20,000 young women who have completed the coding courses and are wanting to explore career opportunities in tech and digital.
In other words, this is also about actually landing a job, for which Code First: Girls already has a decent track record. Women that have received training from the social enterprise have gone on to roles at a number of startups, such as Onfido, Technology Will Save Us, BlaBlaCar, and Starling Bank.
Why does any of this matter? Code First: Girls cites statistics that show women are currently underrepresented in the U.K. technology sector and that this has actually gone backwards, falling from 33 percent in 2002 to 27 percent today. According to the U.K. Office of National Statistics, when you drill down to tech and telco professionals in the U.K., only 3.9 percent are female programmers and software developers, a number that has gone down from 10 percent in 2007. There are arguably many reasons for this, but there is no doubt that the pipeline is one major factor (and an excuse routinely provided by employers).
And, of course, tech is where the higher-paid future jobs are being generated and more broadly tech is reshaping every facet of society. People of all backgrounds and genders should and need to have a stake in how that future is being shaped, for themselves and the benefit of all of us.