General Motors CEO Mary Barra: Empowering the Next Generation of Women in STEM

"GM needs skilled STEM talent — and that’s why we’re on a mission to help build the next generation of STEM leaders, including women," said Barra.

Photo courtesy of General Motors

On Sept. 12, General Motors (No. 42 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list) and Black Girls CODE (BGC) announced a partnership, which creates a new, Detroit-based BGC chapter of the organization that helps get girls of color get interested in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). General Motors announced a $255,000 donation.

At the launch event, a series of hands-on and engaging activities took place at Detroit International Academy for Women (DIA), a Detroit Public Schools Community District school, and TechTown.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra shared the following remarks:

(Originally published on LinkedIn Sept. 12)

We all know the challenge. Fifty percent of middle school girls say they’re interested in computer science. But by high school, less than two percent of young women plan to major in computer science. I’ve seen it myself. I’ve talked with girls who don’t see a path or role model and their dreams start to slip away. In fact, among recent graduates with degrees in computer science, only 18 percent are women, only 3 percent are African American women and only 1 percent are Latinas.

This is bad for our girls—because it deprives so many brilliant young women of the opportunity to pursue those dreams they had in middle school: to become a scientist or engineer. It’s bad for our economy—because it means our nation is missing out on the talents of so many women.

This digital gender gap is also bad for companies like GM. Yes, we’re America’s largest automaker. But we’re also one of America’s most innovative technology-based companies. We’re on the forefront of electric, self-driving cars and connectivity that allows our cars, trucks and crossovers to communicate with each other – all with a long-term vision of zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion. And, with all that innovation, today’s vehicles have millions of lines of code. 

In fact, there are now more job openings in Detroit for computer programmers than there are in manufacturing. GM needs skilled STEM talent—and that’s why we’re on a mission to help build the next generation of STEM leaders, including women.

Earlier this year, we launched a new partnership with Girls Who Code to help inspire, educate and equip more girls with the computing skills they need to succeed in the 21st century economy. This spring, we expanded our efforts with a pledge of $850,000 to four more groups—including Black Girls Code. And we’re very proud that, through our partnership, Black Girls Code is launching a local chapter right here in Detroit!

I know, from personal experience, how important this kind of mentoring can be. Growing up, I was a bit of a math nerd. I mean, I loved math. It’s what led me to pursue a degree in electrical engineering. It’s how I learned to code. But one of the reasons I was able to become the first female in my family to go to college; the first female to run engineering at GM; and the first woman to run an American auto company—is because I had family and mentors who believed in me, encouraged me to take the tough assignments and who gave me a chance. I believe that every single girl in America should have that same opportunity.

Growing up in Memphis, Tenn., Black Girls Code founder and CEO Kimberly Bryant was good at math and science. With the encouragement of her guidance counselors, she took advanced classes and applied to Vanderbilt, where she earned her degree in electrical engineering. She went on to a very successful career in the biotech industry. But when her daughter went to a summer camp for computer coding, she was one of only a few girls, and just one African American girl. Kimberly worried that her daughter might be discouraged and that “coding was something she couldn’t do.”

That’s what inspired Kimberly to create—Black Girls Code. Under her leadership, in just six years, Black Girls Code has taught more than 3,000 girls. “We’re teaching [these girls] how to be leaders, not just tech users,” she says.

I’m so excited about the difference GM and Black Girls Code are going to make together.

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