Where are the Girls Who Code? Knight Foundation Wants More Girls at the Keyboard

In the opinion of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the world of computer science could use a little more balance.

The Knight Foundation is helping a young nonprofit encourage more women to enter male-dominated computer professions. The group, called Girls Who Code, will expand its program to new cities with the backing of a $435,000 Knight Foundation grant.

Girls Who Code’s programs are targeted at girls between the ages of 13 and 17. The nonprofit already provides young women in New York with 300 hours of training and exposes them to robotics, web design, and mobile development. But the grant will allow the program to expand, adding new programs in Detroit, San Jose, and Miami.

The program is aimed at addressing a gender gap that has only grown over the past few decades. The Department of Commerce has found a dwindling share of computer science degrees going to females — from 37% in 1984 to just 14% today. The founders of Girls Who Code want to reverse that trend with their new model of computer science education.

For the Knight Foundation, the program is about an even larger goal — promoting democracy.  The foundation does not have a program dedicated specifically to science education, but it does have a Tech for Engagement program that seeks to expand infrastructure, make government more transparent, and encourage members of the public to take part in civic life. Girls Who Code attracted funding by tying their activities to these high-level goals.

"Coding skills can get you hired, and they can do more. Coders are inventors, builders. Increasingly, they are architects of our communities, building the platforms that allow people to be informed and engaged," said Paula Ellis, vice president for strategic initiatives at the Knight Foundation. "At Knight, we want to ensure that a growing, diverse group of people are able to participate in the field and shape the software that will help shape communities."

Of course, another important factor in the grant is that Girls Who Code’s expansion will benefit the so-called “Knight Communities.” The Knight family owned many prominent American newspapers over the years, and the foundation focuses on the communities served by those media outlets. San Jose, Detroit, and Miami were all home to a Knight-owned newspaper, but there are 26 cities in all.

Grant-seekers who launch a project in one of those cities — and who emphasize the way they would promote healthy communities — will stand the best chance of attracting support from the Knight Foundation’s sizeable endowment.