Decked out in orange and a stylish pair of green striped shorts is Ginger, the unofficial mascot for the Geek Girl Carrots Seattle workshop.
As a stuffed toy carrot from IKEA, Ginger can’t really participate: it can’t code.
But the rest of the women in the room can. Or at the very least, they’re learning.
Geek Girls Carrots is an organization aimed to promote a stronger connection between women and technology. Their Seattle project-based workshops are held on a floor bustling with computers, furniture you’d imagine scattered around a Google office, and geeky decals plastered on the walls.
GGC isn’t the first, but it’s one of the few groups providing women the opportunity to learn a new skill. Spread out over seven weeks, the “Code Carrots Seattle” workshop joins mentors and participants to collaborate on a project of their choice.
The groups can pick to learn any new coding language: the projects vary from designing a web page to developing an online app. GGC events are held with women in mind, but men are welcome to sign up for the workshops.
The workshop wasn’t filled with youthful 20-somethings trying to get ahead, but rather women looking to start over in their careers, women surrounded by technology in their own family life, and women looking to take up a new trade.
Regardless of when women start coding, certain grade levels signify a drop-off for women’s success and participation in STEM. Young men and women in K12 succeed at similar rates in science and mathematic courses, with the highest amount of disparity between different ethnic and income groups.
The Advanced Placement exam tells a different story.
In 2013, approximately 30,000 students took the AP exam for computer science, but only around 5,500 of those students were female. The numbers were even more discouraging for minority groups.
When it comes to CS diplomas, women also fall on the lower end of the scale.
Approximately 50 percent of women earn all science and engineering bachelor’s degrees, but there is strong segmentation between the type of degrees earned. Computer science, engineering, and physics degrees are all respectively handed out at a rate of about 20 percent for females.
While there is speculation about why women don’t receive equivalent amounts of computer science degrees, shows like The Big Bang Theory may be part of the problem.
By second grade, girls already hold stereotypes relating boys to math. As young girls age, other stereotypes are brought on by television shows and late-night Netflix sessions.
Computer scientists and engineers on television, according to a 2015 study, are often portrayed as socially awkward and obsessed with technology.
Characters are overwhelmingly male, and either white or asian. They’re stereotypically given glasses and pale skin. These characters may give off the idea that computer scientists and engineers are “dissociated from communal goals such as helping society and working with others,” according to the study.
While women are stereotypically praised for being sociable, television characters present a completely opposite lifestyle from the gendered roles women are praised for at a young age.
By reducing barriers to women, the study argues they will diversify the workforce and “fill a gap” in high-demand career paths. “Technology already has that innate intimidation factor,” said Hesper Hobsburhg, the organization director for GGC.
“And unfortunately when you encounter professionals who embody the more unfortunate stereotypes, it can really make it difficult to one, retain your enthusiasm, and two, feeling like there is a point to even learning. And we would never want anyone to feel like that.”
The University of Washington may be bridging the gap.
According to Ed Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in computer science & engineering, UW granted 30 percent of computer science bachelor’s degrees to women in the past year, which is more than double the national average.
Unfortunately, the program is relatively small, with only 279 students accepted this past year. Women may not lack interest, but perhaps lack the opportunity. That’s where GGC comes in.
Back at their workshop, Sarah Guermond, the social media and education coordinator for Seattle’s GGC, sprung out of the kitchen shouting, “It’s working! It’s working!” as she waved her computer above her head.
The entire office space, including the kitchen table, was being used by mentor and mentee pairs. The Code Carrots project-based learning environment, based around weekly group goals, guides the women to create a portfolio piece.
Female teachers similar to GGC’s mentors may be the next step towards fostering an environment where women are welcome.
“I think it would be fantastic to have more women be more vocal about their careers, and not trying to conform to stereotypes,” Guermond said. “But I know it’s really, really hard.”
In a study conducted by researchers at the University of Washington, when faced with a stereotype threat, women were more likely to choose a female teacher over a male instructor.
But hiring more female mentors is not the entire solution.
“There may need to be a rethinking of how business goes forth in the firms themselves who makes executive decisions, who exercises power on whose behalf which requires increased diversity of thought at the very highest levels,” Regina Yung Lee, a faculty member at the University of Washington in the Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies department, said in an email.
For now, women are more than welcome in the GGC community.
“If you can’t find an environment that you can feel comfortable in, how can you really succeed in learning?” Hobsburhg said.
Lindsey Boisvin is a journalism student at The University of Washington, participating in the Newslab program.