There’s no telling how different Jennifer Compton’s
life would be had she not taken a job as a lifeguard
30 years ago. The kids she watched were in Girls
Incorporated of Sarasota County, part of a national
nonprofit that empowers more than 140,000 girls
each year. At 16, Compton had never been exposed
to the part of her community that didn’t have the
advantages her family enjoyed.
“I thought I was going to a summer job, which
it was, but it also became very evident that amaz-
ing things were happening,” she says. “There
was one girl in particular who crawled into my
heart—she’d literally sit in my lap in the lifeguard
chair. [She had a] single mom who was a victim of
domestic violence. We became very close. We still
exchange Christmas cards.”
The girl became a licensed practical nurse, the
first in her family to obtain post-secondary educa-
tion. “Her mom told me in no uncertain terms that,
without Girls Inc., her life would be very different.
It really showed me the power of what goes on at
Now Compton is on the board and a “lifer” at
Sarasota’s Girls Inc., which provides after-school
and summer education to about 400 girls. While
her extended tenure as president is coming to a
Jennifer B. Compton
SHUMAKER, LOOP &
A Code of Confidence
Jennifer Compton is helping fight the gender gap in technology BY TREVOR KUPFER
close this year, Compton has undoubtedly left a
mark—especially in the area of technology.
A few years ago, her son, Jack, was in fourth
grade “and lucky enough to get into the technol-
ogy classroom, which was a pilot program at the
time,” Compton says. He came home excited one
day about a character he’d created by computer
coding. “I was blown away. When I went to law
school, my husband and I had a hand-me-down
computer from my parents, so coding was totally
foreign to me. So that sparked my interest.”
The fuel came in the form of a restless night
and a book about women’s self-assurance with
a serendipitous title. “I woke up in the middle of
the night, as I often do, and my mind was running.
I’d been reading before I went to sleep, and my
thoughts intersected. The book was The Confidence
Code,” she recalls. This led to an epiphany: What if
Girls Inc. were to teach coding?
“A lot of our girls don’t have access to technology
other than at the center,” Compton says. “They don’t
have the luxury of a desktop at home, let alone a
tablet or smartphone. So what if we enhanced our
technology and did this for our girls? Forget about
opening a window; let’s open the door.”
At that point, Compton was unaware of the
push for diversity in STEM fields—science, technol-
ogy, engineering and math. “But I got there,” she
says. “Despite the fact that tech jobs are one of the
fastest-growing areas, girls are being left behind,
and it’s only getting worse.”
Between 2008 and 2018, according to the
National Center for Women and Information
Technology, 1.4 million computing-related jobs will
have opened in the U.S. But women are on pace to
fill just 4 2,000 of them; that’s 3 percent.
Her idea to remedy that, Project Code, launched
in spring 2015 at the Ringling College Library As-
sociation Town Hall Lecture Series with a speech
by Katty Kay, co-author of The Confidence Code.
“By summer, we had five weeks of technology and
two weeks of coding at our summer camp, and it was
a huge success,” Compton says. “Then we started
hearing about the Hour of Code in public schools,
and Google did the whole Made with Code program.
It was a movement that we were in the forefront of
and got caught up in, in a very good way.”
So good, in fact, that Microsoft granted Girls Inc.
Lawyers giving back
Girls are coding by third grade in the Sarasota Girls Inc.’s school
and summer computer programs.