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Google Pledges $50 Million So Girls Can Be ‘Fluent In the 21st Century’

“It’s incredibly important to our industry … you make better products,” Google X’s Megan Smith told TheWrap

Google is eager to fix Silicon Valley’s glaring lack of diversity, pledging $50 million to Made With Code, an initiative that will teach young girls to code. Unveiled Thursday in New York City, Made with Code seeks to reach girls at an early age, convincing them that computer science is a vital part of their future.

Google recently disclosed that only 17 percent of its tech employees are women, and Yahoo followed suit with similarly disheartening figures. The companies chose to reveal these numbers to the public because they’re intent on changing the current situation. Mindy Kaling and Chelsea Clinton have joined the charge to help change things.

Also read: Hollywood Dumps Diversity (Again): White Men Directed 90 Percent of This Year’s Summer Movies

TheWrap spoke with Megan Smith, a VP at Google X and a successful entrepreneur, about why diversity remains a problem, how women will make Google a better company and her own past.

Why are there so few women working in technology?
There’s an extraordinary bias in the world — from the media, from parents. Popele don’t think of these careers for their kids; they are less visible. Technical women and minorities are less visible. They’re not opting in, and they’re not getting exposed to it at school.

What will changing this do?
It’s incredibly important to our industry for a million different reasons; one is you make better products. There are studies out of the Kellogg School of Management. Your products are broader reaching and better for all kinds of different people; you reach a much broader customer base.

There are 1.4 million new jobs coming over the next five years and we only have 400,000 Americans to fill them. These are fun, paying, collaborative jobs. There are stereotypes that you stare at a screen, but it’s fun to build at YouTube or Vevo.

Also read: What the Government – and Google – Know About You (Video)

So Google will make even better products?
It’s proven in our study.

I’m not questioning that at all, but Google has been a pretty successful company.
Ideas should come from anywhere and everywhere. Only one percent of high school students are expressing interest in computer science despite exposure to technologies and phones and apps. It’s all around them. The messaging here is the things you love are made with code. We need to get them to think about lifting up the hood — to not just be a consumer, but make things.

What was the study?
We asked women why they were coding. They see stuff but they don’t see the connections between coding and having an impact on the world. They might lean towards governmental jobs. We want them to also know they can build a website like Kiva, which is doing a microloan every five seconds.

Which is why you’ve selected women to serve as mentors and role models.
Brittany Wenger does astonishing medical research work with code around breast cancer. She just finished her freshman year at Duke. What you see on the website is based on the research. Kids are saying, “I don’t see any people doing this.” These are incredible people from different backgrounds and ages. We want to show why they did that.

Is there a disparity in the number of women coding from different races?
I don’t know, but it’s a multi-dimensional problem. There are 40 states that don’t have computer science classes required.

We wanted to start with girls and encourage them. Our study found that everyone who made it through had somebody who was telling them they could do it. The person didn’t need to be technical. Encouragement is especially important; that’s how we put it together.

How do you tell if it worked?
Looking at the numbers and seeing if we can move this with Google scale. We want to get millions of girls across the country to consider it. It doesn’t mean every girl has to be a computer science major, but we want kids in this country to be fluent in the 21st century.