How Disney is Getting Women into STEM

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Thursday, February 6, 2020

Disney's Nikki Katz is helping to support more women moving into STEM fields; the company's CODE: Rosie initiative is a new way to give women a way into the sector.

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Female representation in STEM fields continues to be a major issue. According to figures from the National Girls Collaborative Project, despite the fact that women make up 50% of the overall workforce, their representation in STEM disciplines is just 28%.

Addressing this disparity is not an easy task, but that said, Disney is changing the way women are being supported to move into STEM, with its vice-president of technology, Nikki Katz, spearheading an initiative to help more women learn software engineering.

What's the present situation for female representation in STEM?

Traditionally a male-dominated field, STEM as a whole has come under fire in recent years for not doing enough to support more women taking up roles within the sector.

According to the 2018 article 'Gender Diversity in STEM Disciplines: A Multiple Factor Problem' by members of the School of Engineering and Department of Didactics of Mathematics (Faculty of Teaching) at Universitat de Valencia, there are several major stumbling blocks to more women entering the profession at present.

These factors include:

  • A lack of mentors in their professional career
  • A lack of female role models to emulate and look up to
  • Ongoing gender bias in many businesses
  • Unequal growth opportunities compared to men
  • An ongoing gender pay gap for men and women with the same skills

Overcoming these barriers and helping more women enter STEM disciplines is therefore increasingly important, as this will help address a significant disparity between the sexes in a sector that is, ultimately, among the fastest growing and most influential in the modern world.

It also comes at a time when there’s a significant shortage of skilled professionals in the STEM arena. For example, it's currently estimated that the cost of a lack of qualified STEM candidates to businesses in the UK could be as much as £1.5 billion ($1.93 billion) a year. Closing this skills gap is therefore in everybody's best interest.

What is CODE: Rosie?

CODE: Rosie was launched by Disney in April 2016 and allows women from all departments within the business to learn new skills and move into the arena of coding. It offers a route into a highly competitive space for female members of staff who have the will to develop new skills and further their career in a new direction.

The brainchild of Nikki Katz, CODE: Rosie is a 15-month program that teaches participants everything they need to know about the different aspects of software engineering, from coding techniques to programming languages, with two six-month placements that allow women to really get a feel for what it would be like to work in the discipline.                  

So far, dozens of entrants have graduated from the CODE: Rosie program and go into fulfilling careers in software engineering and associated disciplines.

Key to the success of the initiative has been the efforts made by Katz to build collaboration among women enrolled in CODE: Rosie and their counterparts in full-time roles within the departments where they'll be learning and, ultimately, working.

Overall, the program has benefited the whole business:

"From high school all the way until now, I've only been doing tech. Having [participants] come into the program and talk about their past experiences in consumer products and game development and all these other fields was just really eye-opening. Because I only saw the Walt Disney Company in a narrow spectrum." - Calvin Wong, Lead Software Engineer at Disney

 

Every business can make a difference

However, it's not just the massive players like Disney that will be important in addressing the current imbalance in representation among women in STEM disciplines. Indeed, every organization, both large and small, has a role to play.

Supporting initiatives that promote equal opportunities for men and women to develop new skills, gain experience and rise up the corporate ladder should be at the forefront for any progressive organization operating in the STEM field, and beyond. By promoting a level playing field among men and women in all areas, businesses can help to bring about a fairer society and can position themselves as leaders in the fight against discrimation.

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