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Girls Who Code

Oct 7 2014

On a bright summer day in Silicon Valley, 20 high school girls are paired off in an Intel conference room, role playing job negotiation skills. They might otherwise have been at the beach or with friends at the mall, but these girls are concentrating on a workshop where they will learn practical skills to help them make their voices heard as they move forward in life. 

The workshop is offered by Stanford University’s Center for Women's Leadership, launched by the Clayman Institute for Gender Research earlier this year.  This past summer, the Center partnered with Intel Corporation to pioneer a unique University model of Girls Who Code. Girls Who Code is a national nonprofit organization working to close the gender gap in the technology and engineering sectors, as part of their computer coding skills summer program. Both groups are looking for ways to deal with the challenge of getting more women to pursue careers in technology.

The disparity between the numbers of men and women in computing has been widely reported. According to an article published in The Atlantic last fall, “while 57 percent of occupations in the workforce are held by women, in computing occupations that figure is only 25 percent.” Those percentages are mirrored in statistics on undergraduate degree recipients, where women represent only 14 percent, a surprising 23-point decline since 1985. The problem starts at the high school level, with women counting for only 19 percent of test-takers on the Advanced Placement Computer Science test.

While organizations like Girls Who Code focus on computing skills, the negotiation workshop is part of a broader Clayman Institute initiative called Seeds of Change, which aims to provide young women and girls with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate the transition from school to work through research based learning programs. The negotiation workshop—or, Acquiring Skills and Knowledge (ASK) project—uses a train-the-trainer enablement model, where women are trained in negotiation and then equipped with tools and exercises for them to lead workshops for others.

Launched four years ago by Sara Jordan-Bloch, sociologist at the Clayman Institute, the one-day negotiation workshop uses a combination of engaging lecture and fun game scenarios to teach middle, and high school-aged girls. These young women  not only learn valuable negotiation skills, but also how to identify what they really want, what they’re worth, how to persuade others, structure an argument, and learn to listen to what someone else may want. In the spirit of the Institute’s Voice & Influence curriculum, which focuses on empowering women and men to be effective leaders, the workshop teaches girls at a younger age how to value and advocate for their authentic selves and not just react to what is expected of them.

“In school, girls learn how to be good students,” says Jordan-Bloch. “But what it takes to be a good student often isn’t what it takes to succeed in the workforce. The expectations of a ‘good student’ are in line with the expectations of a ‘good girl’: listen, do your homework, raise your hand when you want to speak or have a question. Different rules apply at work. To be successful at work, you have to know how to take the initiative and advocate for yourself. These are things girls are often not taught, and even discouraged from doing.” 

Drawing on her background in sociology and education, Jordan-Bloch developed a program designed not only to teach the fundamentals of negotiation, but also to encourage participation and interaction. The workshop starts with a look at five steps to successful negotiation: recognizing the opportunity, assessing the negotiation environment, clarifying what you want and what you are worth, identifying the other person’s wants and needs, and finally negotiating techniques.

Jordan-Bloch and her co-presenter Natasha Patel, an undergraduate student and research assistant at Clayman Institute, keep the girls involved with stories from their own lives that help them understand how to apply negotiation principles to real-life situations. In the afternoon, the girls put what they learn into practice, pairing up or working in teams and role-playing scenarios that are truly relevant to their lives: How do they go about negotiating with their parents for a trip they want to take? What can they do to negotiate the terms of their first-ever summer job? How can they get agreement between arguing campers at a summer camp?

“Each activity builds off the next, giving the participants the opportunity to develop a rich understanding of the mechanics of negotiation,” Jordan-Bloch explains. “The students are often hesitant at first, but as they begin to identify and vocalize their own wants and needs, they realize these are skills they can actually learn.”

“We want the girls to be comfortable with the curriculum and thereby learn to be comfortable asking for what they want,” says Natasha. “Often they tell me ‘I didn’t even know I had the option to ask for something different!’” 

This summer’s ASK workshop is the first collaboration with Girls Who Code, who reached out to the Center at the Clayman Institute to help them augment their computer skills program with negotiation skills to teach girls how to change a situation to reach agreement with others. The Girls Who Code summer immersion program at Stanford is itself fully funded by Intel Corporation, one of the founding supporters and partners of Girls Who Code and a member of Clayman Institute’s Corporate Partners Program. Clayman staff Ann Enthoven and Natalie Mason were instrumental in bringing the immersion program to life at Stanford, and managing all aspects of hosting the young women on campus.

“The Clayman Institute’s renowned research and programming on gender equality made them the perfect partner to empower young women to close the gender gap in tech,” says Christina Chin, External Affairs Manager at Intel. “By joining forces, Intel introduced world-class Stanford sociologists to teach Voice and Influence workshops in our Girls Who Code summer immersion program. Our collaboration with the Clayman Institute serves as a model for equipping [young] women with the skills and knowledge necessary to advance to the C-Suite.”

“Our students said they hesitate to ask for change from other people because they are afraid of making the situation even worse, hurting others' feelings, hurting relationships, or hurting third parties,” explains Devney Hamilton, an instructor for Girls Who Code. “The workshop builds on skills they may already feel confident in: identifying a problem or change they want, prioritizing, doing research, asking questions, strategizing. For students who felt that negotiation—or arguing, as some see it—isn't for them, breaking it down that way makes it something they can learn and gain confidence in.”

“Getting what we want is an essential skill for getting power, and negotiating is a way to get what we want while following the rules of schools, companies, government, and other organizations,” Devney continues. “Some people learn it implicitly from their families. The rest of us can, and must learn more explicitly. The ASK workshop provides that chance.”

Jordan-Bloch is working on expanding the Seeds of Change curriculum to include other workshops to help young girls prepare for success in their careers, including topics such as “the mindset of leadership,” “the art of persuasive communication,” and “crafting your story.”

She ends her workshops with an exercise called “Head, Heart, Feet,” encouraging the girls to share something they learned, something they felt, and something they are leaving the workshop wanting to do.

The girls talk about the importance of applying the skills they’ve learned and a newfound feeling of confidence: “I feel like I deserve to ask for things.” “I'm going to negotiate with my parents.” “I'm going to negotiate for a position with my school newspaper!” “Just try it— you might get more than you thought you would!”

Their comments are a solid endorsement of both the technical and practical sides of what they are learning and a happy answer to the annual question, “How did you spend your summer vacation?”

Watch the video, to learn more about Intel's partnership with Girls Who Code:


A gender lens
exposes gaps in knowledge,
identifies root causes of barriers,
and proposes workable solutions.