Why the Future Needs More Girls Who Code

By Fiona Tan
September 6, 2017
Girls in the audience during the Girls Who Code event

Science and math were subjects that were encouraged and appreciated in Singapore where I grew up.

But after moving to the U.S., I saw a real difference in the support of young women interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

In Singapore, there was heavy emphasis on science and math – for everyone. It gave me a strong foundation for furthering my education in technology. When I arrived in the U.S. for college, I discovered computer science and ended up graduating with a bachelor’s and master’s in computer science from MIT and Stanford respectively. I’ve spent 25 years in the field of technology and can’t imagine doing anything else.

My daughter, Juliette, grew up in the U.S., and her experience was more challenging. She didn’t have the same encouragement and support to pursue and excel in STEM from her peers and teachers that I had experienced. Like many young girls, she was outnumbered in classes but luckily, she had enough gumption and mentorship to pursue an engineering degree.

Fiona Tan and her daughter, Juliette, a sophomore engineering student at Harvey Mudd College.

My experience with Juliette convinced me of the importance of reaching out to young girls, to provide them with role models to learn from and a safe environment to explore STEM, coding, and to hopefully inspire them to pursue a higher degree, and eventually a career in technology.

Today, women are far underrepresented in this growing field. In fact, a recent study by Accenture shows that the gender gap in computing has actually worsened since the 1980s.

While women comprised 37% of computer science graduates in 1984, only 18% pursue the field today. Increasing the number of women in technology is critical for a few reasons:

  • By 2020, there will be 1.4 million jobs available in computing related fields.
  • U.S. graduates are on track to fill 29% of those jobs. Women are on track to fill just 3%.
  • Women bring a diverse mindset to computer science, which is necessary for continued innovation.

Becky Schmitt, right, Walmart's senior vice president of Global Human Resources, hosts a conversation with Reshma Saujani, chief executive officer of Girls Who Code.

As a company that employs technologists in a variety of disciplines, Walmart recognizes that not only is this important for business, it’s important for society. However, to ensure a strong pipeline of talent – and inspire young girls to pursue this exciting field – we need to do more.

Today, Walmart announced a $250,000 contribution to Girls Who Code, a nonprofit dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology by building the largest pipeline of future female engineers in the United States. Walmart’s contribution will help Girls Who Code achieve their goal of growing from 1,000 clubs to 3,600 in all 50 states, reaching 50,000 girls across the U.S. by the end of the 2018 school year.

In addition to providing funding, Walmart will also be an active participant at many of these clubs, through associate volunteering and hosting student field trips to our technology offices.

We recently had the privilege of introducing nearly 300 middle school-aged girls to Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. The girls in attendance learned about programs and opportunities for a career in technology. Our desire is that by advocating on behalf of Girls Who Code, we’ll be able to ignite more clubs in our communities.

We’re excited about the opportunity to inspire young girls to study STEM and close the gender gap. Here’s how you can get involved:

Fiona Tan is the Senior Vice President of Customer Technology at Walmart Labs, the technology division innovating new solutions for Walmart Stores and Walmart eCommerce. Fiona has spent the last 25 years in the field of technology having worked at Ariba, TIBCO Software and Oracle, respectively.

Looking for jobs in STEM? Check out our careers site to see what positions are currently available.