Here's One Way That Google is Dealing with the Huge STEM Gender Gap

In the past year or so, the tech world has come under scrutiny for male overrepresentation. A high-profile sex discrimination suit was filed against VC firm Kleiner Perkins, and there's been a rash of cases of women experiencing online harassment in tech circles. Meanwhile, in a very different development, corporations of all kinds that rely on skilled workers have awakened to the need to ensure that an increasingly diverse workforce has a strong education in science and math. There's just not enough geeky white guys to go around anymore. 

Google is at the center of the tech universe, and men comprise 70 percent of its workforce, so it would be hard for them not to notice the problemor feel the heat. 

One way Google has been addressing the STEM gender gap is by providing RISE awardsgrants of $15,000 to $50,000 that focus on educating girls, minorities, and low-income students up to age 18 in computer science, helping to prepare them for workforce jobs at places like Google.

Google gave its first RISE awards in 2010, so this marks the fifth year that it has been addressing the disparity for girls and women in the tech world. The awards started in North America in 2010, then expanded to Europe in 2011, Sub-Saharan Africa in 2012, and Asia Pacific, Middle East and Latin America in 2013, gradually becoming more global in scope.

(Last year, as we also reported, Google launched a $50 million initiative to encourage girls to code, Made w/ Code.)

The RISE grants include access to a global network of computer science partners including the annual RISE Global Summit and participation in the Google+ online community. They also include twelve months of consultation to learn about technical tools and organizational development.

Before saying more about who's getting these grants, we should make a broader point: The RISE awards are another example of why it's worth keeping an eye on Google's philanthropy, which is both multi-faceted and evolving fast. 

We've written in the past about Google's expansion of support for academic researchers, and recently, we wrote about its new giving to address poverty in the Bay Area. Last year, we wrote about Google and its CEO Larry Page stepping up to address the Ebola crisis. And we've written quite a bit about the active giving of Eric Schmidt and Sergey Brin. The Google philanthropy file, in other words, is getting pretty thick. 


Okay, with that context, let's now get back to the RISE awards. The full list of winners is here, and below are some highlights to give you a flavor of what this is all about. 

DiscoverE  Edmonton, Canada

DiscoverE is a nonprofit initiative at the University of Alberta focused on delivering high-impact camps, workshops, and clubs across 70 communities and three territories in Canada. Its Coding Club introduces girls ages 9 to 15 to coding and programming. 

Empoder  East Palo Alto, CA

While this program is located in California, it is really a global program that engages students ages 8 to 18 in California and Mexico through mentorship and rigorous in-school, after-school and summer programs. The idea for its founding came to Dr. Marissa Elena Yáñez in June 2014 while on vacation in Mexico. Since then, she founded Empoder and recruited seven engineering faculty and four undergraduate students from the Universidad de las Americas Puebla to help lead hands-on projects and activities in Coding, Robotics, Instrumentation, Water Purification, Sustainable Design, Industrial Engineering and Biomedical Engineering in East Palo Alto, CA. The program also brought 50 low-income students ages 8 to 18 from Cholula, Mexico, to attend a free, two-week summer immersion program.

GUSTO and THRUST Educational Programs Nashville, TN

Fisk University is partnering with community organizations in Nashville to bring two summer camps to girls: GUSTO (Girls Using Scientific Tools) and THRUST (To Harness, Retain, Understand and Sustain) which offer STEM mentoring and informal learning environments.

Institute for Computing Education (ICE) at Georgia Tech  Atlanta, GA

This program, dubbed RISE Up 4 CS, helps African American and female students pass the Advanced Placement Computer Science exam by offering help sessions through a local college or university. This program provides educational sessions run by undergraduate students via both webinars and in-person sessions.  

LA Makerspace  Los Angeles, CA

This community-based nonprofit is on a mission to increase access not to STEM, but STEAMScience, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (note the clever insertion of ART into STEM). This young team of coders teaches kids with a program called Scratch, and makes visiting calls around the Los Angeles area "to help anyone who wants to start making their own software."

Ladies Learning Code  Toronto, Canada

Ladies Learning Code is a Canadian organization that wants to be a leading resource for women and youth to become passionate builders of technology. In 2014, it reported serving 1,544 youth learners in 20 cities.

Maker Education Initiative (Maker Ed)  Oakland, CA

Maker Education Initiative (Maker Ed) is a national nonprofit with a flexible club model that brings together youth and mentors to create a youth-chosen project. The program goes on to showcase its participants' work at ‘Maker Faires' and helps expose young students to a range of experiences and opportunities in STEM careers.

NCWIT AspireIT  Boulder, CO

This program connects female high school and college students with K-12 girls to foster their interest in computer science. Using a near-peer model, the program seeks to bolster girls confidence in their technical skills and leadership potential. 

MIT Office of Engineering Outreach Programs  Cambridge, MA

This program has reached over 3,000 underrepresented and underserved middle and high school students free of charge to help them explore and develop interest in computer science. Two of OEOP’s programs, MOSTEC and SEED Academy, provide a specialized computer science curriculum that enables students from all backgrounds to explore coding and computer design.

Peninsula Bridge  Palo Alto, CA

Peninsula Bridge works with low-income students by preparing and supporting them for success in college. This year, Peninsula Bridge is adding Computer Science classes to the curriculum.

ScriptEd, Inc.  New York City, USA

ScriptEd provides students in low-income communities coding skills and professional experiences that create access to careers in technology. Students get the chance to apply their new skills in paid summer internships.

Women's Audio Mission  San Francisco, USA

Women’s Audio Mission is aimed at advancing women and girls in digital media technology and the recording arts, a field in which women are critically under-represented (less than 5 percent). Its program, Girls on the Mic, incorporates Computer Science into the learning of of audio technology.

To apply for a 2016 grant, check back with the Google Education website in the fall.