GM's CEO Mary Barra tells us why she's making a big investment in young female coders

GM Mary Barra Girls Who CodeGeneral MotorsGM CEO sits with Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code.

GM’s CEO Mary Barra has made huge moves during her tenure to transform the traditional automaker into a tech company.

In fact, in the last year alone under Barra’s leadership, the auto giant acquired Cruise Automation, invested $500 million in the ride-hailing company Lyft, and launched GM’s first long-range, all-electric vehicle, dubbed the Bolt.

This growing focus on connectivity, electrification, and autonomy has spurred the company to increasingly recruit more software engineers. In fact, Barra told Business Insider in an interview that on average the company is hiring a STEM position every 26 minutes.

But Barra said that while the boom for coding jobs is growing in the auto industry, the number of female candidates to fill these positions is not. This primarily stems from the fact that there simply aren’t that many women getting computer-science degrees.

In fact, more than 84% of undergraduate computer science students in the US are men, according to the latest stats by the Computing Research Association.

Barra wants to change that, though, which is why GM announced Tuesday that it’s giving a grant of $250,000 to Girls Who Code, a non-profit organisation that provides after-school programs to teach girls in 6 to 12th-grade computing skills. The aim of the organisation is to better equip girls with the computing skills they need so that they can pursue computer-science degrees once they get to college.

Barra said she hopes the partnership will eventually help grow the talent pool of coders from which GM recruits, especially since coders are more in-demand than ever in the auto industry.

“There are tens of millions of lines of code in the vehicle today, which wasn’t true five or six years ago,” Barra said. “So there’s a growing need for software engineers, and you see the demand growing, but you also see the gender gap widening.”

In 2015, there were some 500,000 open computing jobs, but only 40,000 computer-science graduates, and few of them were women, according to research from Accenture and Girls Who Code that published in October.

In fact, female computer science majors dropped from 34% in 1984 to 18% in 2016, according to the joint report.

“The need for coding and STEM degrees is increasing, and if we don’t reach women, we are not going to have the technical talent we need in the industry,” Barra said.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that girls aren’t getting the computer-science education they need in junior high and high school so they can pursue a career in STEM when they get to college, Barra said. By partnering with Girls Who Code, though, Barra said she hopes to change that.

“When you look at Girls Who Code and the success of their program, we think that they get to the right age group. You have to reach these girls in junior high so that they take the right curriculum in high school to then be strong candidates for getting computing degrees,” Barra said. “So it really is a business based decision of needing more software engineers and also because we are committed to diversity.”

Barra, who has been at GM for more than 35 years, said that she wouldn’t be where she is if GM didn’t already have a strong commitment to diversity, but added that creating a diverse workforce is a job that is never really finished.

“It’s something that needs continual attention… because so much of the issue is that people need to see people like them to believe that they can achieve the same thing. So we are working on that as a company,” Barra said.

NOW WATCH: An engineer explains how this block of sand can hold the weight of a car

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.