How LinkedIn’s High School Trainee Program Is Committed To Closing The STEM Gender Gap

As more and more revelations about sexual assault and harassment toward women in Hollywood, news media, politics and the tech industry continue to surface, there has been a resounding support for one idea in particular – the need to see more women in positions of leadership, especially at the very top. The weeding-out must continue and workplaces and industries must continue to re-evaluate the damaging and toxic culture that has been allowed to fester for too long.

And on the other end of the spectrum, we need to see an even more aggressive push to encourage women and girls to step into the roles where they are needed. In the tech world, the stats are appalling. Women hold only 25% of computing jobs, own a mere 5% of startups, and make up only 11% of executive positions in Silicon Valley. One the money side of things, women on average earn 29% less than their male counterparts. Yet companies that are headed up by women perform 3 times better than those with a male CEO.

This is what makes pipeline programs so important, as the industry cannot afford to see the next generation of tech stars continue to be biased. One program in particular that has already been working to address the gender gap in tech is Linkedin. Three years ago, they developed an initiative called the Linkedin Women In Tech High School Trainee Program to inspire the next generation of women in tech.

The programs allows high school girls to embed with software engineering teams during the summer, and the results so far have been amazing: 96% of students say they plan to pursue STEM majors and 89% say they plan to pursue computer science in particular. Those numbers are an incredibly encouraging sign that these programs work.

LinkedIn wants other companies to follow in its footstep so it made the program’s materials and curriculum available to the public through GitHub to inspire them to develop similar programs. We had an opportunity to speak with Erica Lockheimer, Head of Growth Engineering & Women in Tech at LinkedIn, to learn more about the High School Trainee Program, and how the tech platform is working to close the gender gap in tech.

How did the LinkedIn Women in Tech High School Trainee program come about?

While the original idea for this program came about during an annual wrap up meeting in 2015 for our Women in Tech programming, it has been grown and led by our Sr. Director of Engineering, Sarah Clatterbuck. It was in late 2015 that Sarah and the Women in Tech team asked ourselves, what if girls were exposed to coding and technology early on in their education? Would they be more likely to pursue degrees in computer science and related fields? We decided to put this theory to the test by developing a comprehensive pilot trainee program for software development for high school girls.

The pilot program consisted of seven trainees who came from local schools in the Bay Area, who we embedded within two of our engineering organizations. While it was a small pilot, the results were encouraging at the end of the eight week program: all of the trainees declared an intent to study a STEM major and said they would recommend the program to a friend. With these results in mind, we decided to develop the trainee pilot into a larger program in 2016 and beyond.

Why is it important to start engaging girls in stem from a young age?

Too many young women think that software engineers are men that like to sit in a dark basement coding alone. Oftentimes this is due to the stereotypes of software engineers commonly portrayed in the media, or due to lack of exposure among peer and family relationships.

These students may have high potential to be successful in technology as software engineers, but may not be considering STEM and computer science degrees, which would help them prepare for a career in science, technology or software engineering.

The goal of the LinkedIn Women in Tech High School Trainee program is to provide the right level of exposure to careers in software engineering to inspire these high-potential students to pursue computer science and related degrees.

We’ve recently seen a number of news stories about pervasive sexism and inequality in the tech industry. Do these issues get addressed or discussed through your program?

Computer science is still considered by many to be a “boys only” field, but this is clearly not the case.  The High School Trainee Program aims to change this notion by mentoring female students, increasing their confidence, and showing them women do belong in STEM.

Having a diverse team is critical to keep bias from creeping into how you build and design user experience.  Think about the first step of ideation of designs – do your mocks represent a diverse set of people?  If you don’t have diverse people at the table, it will show up in what you build and it will not even be obvious because many are blind to these biases.

You will get a different outcome. I heard a great quote from Melinda Gates at this year’s Grace Hopper Celebration “If we don’t get women and people of color at the table — real technologists doing the real work — we will bias systems. Trying to reverse that a decade or two from now will be so much more difficult, if not close to impossible.”

A high percentage of the girls from the program end up majoring in STEM subjects in university, which shows the impact of initiatives like this. How do these results speak to sexist attitudes that claim women just aren’t cut out for the tech world?

Over the three years that we’ve conducted this program, we’ve exceeded our overall goal, which is to have 80% of the participants choose a STEM major.

For this past year’s cohort, we focused on reaching students who expressed even less of an initial interest in computer science than candidates from previous years. We saw a real transformation in the students, from being tentative to confident and proud of their work. They went from unsure outsiders to eager participants in the technology industry, in just eight short weeks. The results of this program speak for themselves. Even this year, as we incorporated students who expressed less up-front interest in or exposure to technology, we continued to exceed our goals. These results prove that it isn’t a difference in gender, it’s a difference in exposure.

Why was it important for LinkedIn to make the program materials publicly available for use?

LinkedIn receives thousands of emails and messages from interested students each year, yet we can only support a program for a small number of students in order to provide an enriching mentorship environment.

By open sourcing the curriculum on GitHub, we’re hoping other companies will leverage these materials to run similar programs for even more students across Silicon Valley and beyond.

How do you conduct outreach and engagement to get girls interested in the trainee program?/ Does the trainee program engage girls in low-income areas, where opportunities like this are not commonly found?

The current process is to target computer science teachers from schools with lower exposure to technology but that do have a computer science class. Teachers are asked to refer students that meet a standard benchmark that the student is currently enrolled in a computer science course with a grade of B or higher and will be returning to high school the following year. Following referral by the teachers, students receive a soft-skills screening and verification of eligibility for employment.

How do you hope the program will also address the racial gap found in tech?

While the High School Trainee program was created for girls, we wanted to take the idea one step further. It was important to identify girls living in communities who don’t have great access to technology programs and don’t have a ton of opportunities to learn about engineering as a career. Our goal for the program has always been and continues to be getting these high potential females to see themselves as future engineers.

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To learn more about the LinkedIn High School Trainee Program, click here. To get the program materials and create a similar initiative at your company, visit the GitHub page.

 

One Comment

  1. This is so amazing! I am so happy to read this. I hope this will reach schools in high risk areas as well. Thanks for making the information public. I will definitely follow up to see how useful this can be and who I can share it with! The smiling faces of the ladies is such a joy to see! Good job linked in!

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