Powering up Girls Who Code
Wells Fargo helps inspire the next generation of women in tech careers by sponsoring a trending nonprofit’s 2020 summer program.
With the pandemic accelerating the use of technology, and jobs in technology already on track to grow by more than half a million between 1996 and 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the technology industry is booming.
The gender gap for high-paying careers in technology, however, has been widening. In 1995, 37% of computer scientists were women. Today, it’s only 24%, with just a fraction of women in the field coming from diverse backgrounds.
Since its startup in 2012, the nonprofit Girls Who Code has deployed several programs to help close that gap, and Wells Fargo recently became a supporter of its efforts by sponsoring a session of its 2020 summer immersion program for high school-age girls with minimal previous experience in coding.
Caroline Wharton, a senior relationship manager for Wells Fargo’s Corporate Investment Banking’s Technology Media and Telecom team, and New York chapter board member for the Women’s Team Member Network at the company, was an early proponent of sponsoring the Girls Who Code program. After hearing the nonprofit’s founder, Reshma Saujani, share data on the program, Wharton was convinced that Wells Fargo should join other program sponsors such as JPMorgan Chase, BNY Mellon, Apple Inc., and Walmart.
“Participants in summer immersion programs offered by Girls Who Code will often go on to do internships with companies that support the program,” Wharton said. “So what we essentially are creating is a pipeline of diverse candidates for technology roles, which is a struggle for a lot of firms.”
“With this program, we hope to accommodate a life-defining choice for girls who do not always live in the circumstances that would offer those choices.” — Saul Van Beurden, head of Technology at Wells Fargo
The board of the New York chapter of the Women’s TMN was central to the initial effort to secure funds, coordinate, and plan for the first Girls Who Code summer immersion event at Wells Fargo, even executing on the added complexity of changing plans to present the program online due to COVID-19 shutdowns. Other teams across Wells Fargo including Commercial Banking, Technology, and the Wells Fargo Foundation joined in to support the effort. Wells Fargo sponsored 36 participants during a two-week program in July.
The Wells Fargo Foundation provided program support through a grant. Additional funds from the Technology team supplied lunch gift cards and other perks, such as graduation gifts to celebrate program completion. Support was also provided in-kind: Employees logged on as guest speakers, mentors, and workshop facilitators, helping to introduce the rising 11th and 12th grade girls from in and around New York City to a unique blend of computer science, sisterhood, and tech career preparedness.
“With this program, we hope to accommodate a life-defining choice for girls who do not always live in the circumstances that would offer those choices,” said head of Technology Saul Van Beurden, who spoke to participants during an online event. He told the group, “If you want to be a software developer, there are endless opportunities for you, as most things in banking and in life are becoming software-defined.”
“It was fun. The teachers were positive. They took time with each of us to learn step-by-step, and the energy was nice. Once all the girls got over the awkward stage of getting to know each other, we got to really making connections with each other.” — Jodi Aryee, program participant
Tracy Kerrins, chief information officer on Van Beurden’s Technology team, offered opening and closing remarks for the session, and said that a similar immersion program helped her choose her career path.
“My team is building technology solutions for the customers and client base of Wells Fargo, which is 50% women or more,” Kerrins said. “Without female representation in the thinking that goes into those solutions, we could not possibly believe we were really serving all our clients.
“I loved giving the participants in Girls Who Code a reminder that they have a seat at the table in this field while also reminding them of their personal worth and the value of making connections,” Kerrins said, noting that having other female tech professionals in her network has been important as they navigate careers where women are underrepresented.
In addition to learning about CSS, HTML, Java, Ruby, other coding languages, the program’s emphasis on bravery and “sisterhood” — or building networks — adds a unique value to the hours of online learning, participants said.
“It was fun,” said program participant Jodi Aryee, of Baltimore. “The teachers were positive. They took time with each of us to learn step-by-step, and the energy was nice. Once all the girls got over the awkward stage of getting to know each other, we got to really making connections with each other.”
Many of them bonded over their love of online gaming, and some, like Ashley Plaza from the Queens area of New York City, said that it has opened her eyes to the possibilities for her future career as a game developer.
“I feel like this experience helped me realize how much technology we depend on, and how much technology will help me reach my goals,” Plaza said. “Our generation wants to change things and stop discrimination and have women’s voices be heard … So I am really grateful to be part of this program, and part of this generation that is bringing change.”