Girls Who Code testifying in favor of Maryland ACCESS Act

This week, Girls Who Code Director of Advocacy and Public Policy Corinne Roller testified before the Maryland State Senate Committee on Education, Health and Environmental Affairs in favor of Governor Larry Hogan’s ACCESS Act, which would expand computer science education access in the state.

Roller’s testimony is below.

Madam Chair Conway, Vice Chairman Pinsky, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Corinne Roller and I am the Director of Advocacy and Public Policy for Girls Who Code.

Girls Who Code is a national nonprofit working to close the gender gap in the tech industry. I’m pleased to be able to testify in support of the ACCESS Act. The ACCESS Act will help Maryland take the steps necessary to create a pipeline of future female coders. Closing the gender gap is about economic opportunity, for states, for families, and for America.

Across our country and around the world, technology is changing the way we live and connect and work. Here in Maryland, tech and computing jobs are central to the economy, especially to the thriving cybersecurity industry that, in 2016, employed 42,000 Marylanders. In the same year, this state was named the #1 state in STEM job creation.

We cannot, as a state or as a nation, afford to fall behind in tech. And yet, in many ways, we’re already slipping. Today, the U.S. graduates about 97,000 engineers a year. China graduates 315,000. That’s more than 3 times as many.

If we’re going to compete internationally, we need an educated and empowered workforce. Right now, we have the opposite.

Research shows that 40 percent of women in the U.S. say they are not interested in working in computer science or information technology (IT). This compares to 25 percent in emerging markets. In 10 years, women’s representation in tech will be down to just 22 percent. During that same time, however, tech industry jobs are projected to grow by 20 percent. By 2018, there could be as many as 2.4 million unfilled science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs in the U.S.

Maryland is leading the country in STEM job creation and yet, only 20 percent of computer science graduates in this state are female. Only 31 percent of AP computer science test takers in Maryland are female. Maryland may rank second in the ratio of female workers in tech occupations, but that ratio is still less than 25 percent.

Bottom line: supply is failing to meet demand. And unless we engage this enormous, and largely untapped, source of female talent, the U.S. will fall behind its competitors abroad, fail to prepare our workforce, and leave families out of the economy of tomorrow.

By introducing the ACCESS Act in November, Governor Hogan explicitly highlighted the need for more girls in computer science classrooms across Maryland, and uses this legislation will do just that. We know that while girls’ interest in computer science declines over time, the greatest drop-off happens in middle and high school. We call this the “middle school cliff” — the period in middle and high school when girls’ interest in computer science declines dramatically at the same time that boys’ interest grows.

This legislation takes significant steps to end the drop-off in our classrooms by requiring that schools offer computer science in all middle schools. We know that experience of computing in middle school means girls are more likely to show interest in computing throughout their high school and college years. By requiring all middle schools to offer computer science, Maryland will engage girls early and spark a lifelong interest in coding. The ACCESS Act is a major step forward for Maryland to close the gender gap.

And closing the gender gap is about more than creating a competitive advantage for Maryland’s economic future. It is about creating prosperity for families. We all know that tech jobs pay more than twice the national average. Right now, more than 40% of families across the country rely on women as primary breadwinners. Investing in computer science for girls is an investment in a path to the middle class for future generations, and the ACCESS Act will position Maryland as a leader in this space — unlocking the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit of women, and builds out the computer science talent pipeline and creating a competitive advantage for Maryland’s economy.

In conclusion, I ask that you pass the ACCESS Act and position Maryland as a leader in this space — empowering girls, building out the computer science pipeline, and securing this country’s place as a global leader in the economies of tomorrow.

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