From supermodel to super role model: Karlie Kloss’s effort to get more women in tech

We are constantly told there are not enough women pursuing careers in the STEM fields. Part of the problem is the pipeline issue. This is something model and entrepreneur Karlie Kloss has been tackling since 2014 when she launched her foundation Kode With Klossy to help teach young girls to code.

We are constantly told there are not enough women pursuing careers in the STEM fields. Part of the problem is the pipeline issue. Only 27% of all students taking the AP Computer Science exam in the United States are female and then this gap just continues to grow as only 18% of American computer-science college degrees go to women. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce report even though 47% of all U.S. jobs in 2015 were held by women, only 24% had STEM jobs.

This is something model and entrepreneur Karlie Kloss has been tackling since 2015 when she launched her foundation Kode With Klossy to help teach young girls to code. She caught the bug in her early 20s after taking a coding class herself and experiencing the tremendous benefits as well as opportunities that appeared with the acquisition of this particular skill set.

Though it began as free summer coding camps, it has extended to 50 camps serving over 1,000 girls in 25 cities nationwide. And the results have been incredible, as Forbes reported that one of the first Kode With Klossy students won the 2017 TechCrunch Disrupt NY Hackathon, beating out 750 other engineers in the process. Other Kode With Klossy graduates have gone on to attend Ivy League schools to major in Computer Science.

And now she wants to tackle another part of the issue of getting more women into not only STEM but also STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics) which is showing young girls all the different kind of opportunities that await them. Yes, there are the Sheryl Sandbergs and Marissa Mayers who are in the public eye and are amazing superstars, but what about engineers, mobile designers, technical artists, and chefs? These are also incredible careers in these fields and these women need to have their stories told.

That is why Kode With Klossy in collaboration with Ford STEAM Experience launched a four-part video series, celebrating inspiring women and their
passionate work in STEAM fields. The series is available on Karlie’s YouTube channel, Klossy and is also being especially distributed by Oath, a supporter of Kode With Klossy.

In the series, Kloss shows some of the brightest minds working in STEAM and shaping what’s next across four industries: mobility, space, gaming, and food. By showing how fascinating, future-focused, and creative careers in STEAM can be, the series aims to inspire the next generation of innovators and show girls that leaders in tech began just like them — curious, passionate and determined. Kloss even made plant-based burgers!

“There are so many brilliant, accomplished women working in tech, though we don’t often get to see them or hear about their stories. That lack of visibility has real consequences,” Kloss told Ladders. “Besides limited access to education, one of the reasons many women don’t pursue careers in tech is because they don’t see versions of themselves in the industry.”

“We decided to create the series to share those untold stories, celebrate women’s leadership in STEAM, and provide our viewers a glimpse into what careers in tech actually look like. It was really special to partner with the Ford STEAM Experience, a huge supporter of Kode With Klossy, and utilize my YouTube channel Klossy to bring this series to life,” Kloss added. “Not to mention, our production team was female-led, which was really important to us. This series is an extension of our broader mission at Kode With Klossy to empower young women and girls to learn code and become leaders in tech.”

Ladders spoke with Kloss about sharing the stories of these trailblazing women, getting the next generation of women into these fields and always making sure you stand out.

Everyone has moments of self-doubt

“Meeting all the women and hearing their stories was really memorable. We spoke to women across industries — including food, space, mobility, and gaming — to show how diverse opportunities in tech can be. One surprising thing we found was that despite how varied their careers are, there were similarities in each of these women’s stories.

“As I got to know them, they opened up about feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty at certain moments in their careers, which is something I personally can relate to, and know, many other women have experienced as well. It’s not a challenge per se, but I thought it was a humbling lesson that even the most successful people experience those feelings, and that they shouldn’t get in the way of our goals and ambitions.”

More women, more positions

“Our goal is that women watching this series will not only gain role model but visualize how they can apply code to industries they care about. With many of our former Kode With Klossy scholars going to college and thinking about their own careers, we wanted to show them the wide range of opportunities that exist within STEAM.

“Take the food episode, for example. While many people don’t automatically associate food and science, we spoke to a chemical engineer who creates plant-based meat products that are both healthy and good for the environment. These are the types of creative projects that STEAM careers can offer, and we want as many women working in these positions as possible.

 On her love of science

“Growing up, I actually wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and become a doctor. I’ve always had a passion for math and science, and watching him use those skills to help others was really inspiring. Through him, I learned to appreciate the way science intersects with everyday life, as well as the people who are leading those industries.

“Though my career took a different path with modeling, I feel really lucky that I’m now working on Kode With Klossy and projects like this series that celebrate science. It feels really full circle.”

On the future of Kode with Klossy

“We’re focusing on growing our impact. This year is a big one for us, as we’re expanding to 50 summer coding camps in 25 cities (over 4 times our size from last year!). We worked in partnership with Teach for America to recruit the instructors who will be leading this summer’s camps. By reaching teachers and providing them training and skills to teach code, we hope to scale impact even further.

“Beyond size and numbers, we also want to continue supporting the community of Kode With Klossy scholars that have emerged from our program. That includes creating content like this, as well as providing resources as they continue to study code and launch their careers. Our Kode With Klossy scholars are the reason we continue to grow and invest in our program, and we want to be there for them throughout their journeys.”

The best and worst career advice

“Don’t let perfect get in the way of better. It’s easy to want something to be perfect, but often times that is an unachievable and distracting objective. It’s important to always maintain perspective, and focus on the best way to reach your end goal.

“The worst advice? Blend in. I think you should always try to stand out and voice your opinion. Whether you’re bringing a new idea to the table or need to advocate for yourself, don’t be afraid to be noticed.”

Meredith Lepore|is the Deputy Editor of Ladders and can be reached at mlepore@theladders.com.