Reflecting on the 2023 NCWIT Summit

ICYMI: 2023 NCWIT Summit Summary

On May 18-19, the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) hosted an innovative, hybrid summit in Denver, Colo. After a few years of entirely remote presentations, it was wonderful to convene with attendees in person as well as online. If you couldn’t make the event, or are curious about what you might find at next year’s annual event, read more for a summary from behind the scenes. 

This Disability Pride Month, we at NCWIT are reflecting on hosting our first hybrid conference and the ideas found in the pages of our latest re:think magazine – the disability and accessibility issue. We were proud to share copies at the 2023 NCWIT Summit in Denver and to offer a free and accessible PDF for download as well as individual stories available online. It was an honor and unique challenge to innovate a format that would allow us to convene in a new and impactful way. Whether you joined us in person or virtually, we hope you enjoyed the experience of learning alongside us and networking with us and our members. Thank you for joining us.

New This Year

Whether attendees followed one from start to finish or dabbled with a few different options, we were excited to debut our new content tracks. Each was tailored to specific audiences and interests with the goal of offering participants opportunities to dig deeply into topics and interact with content in a variety of ways – including learning from experts and peers, working together in groups, and creating action plans for making impactful change. Through a series of interactive sessions, tracks welcomed participants from NCWIT Affinity, K-12, Higher Ed, and Workforce alliances.

What are some of the ways biases impede our efforts to build inclusive cultures? How can we not only intervene in these biases but also proactively create cultures where students, employees, and others feel they belong and make meaningful contributions? This summit strand explored some of the latest research connecting bias, belongingness, and inclusion. Attendees practiced concrete strategies for interrupting bias in real-life situations. They also learned from others’ experiences with these issues and developed a plan of action for addressing bias and creating cultures of belonging in their own organizations and in everyday life. ▶ Watch the video.

Equity in computing education is a noble goal, but achieving it can be challenging, especially when efforts, to date, are more focused on individualistic rather than systemic solutions. At the same time, it is often overwhelming for individuals to know how to help change systems.  This strand uncovered ways that individuals can help tackle important but often overlooked levers for systemic change.  Attendees examined the current CS environment in K-12, drilled down to specific levers for change, and learned how each individual can play an active role in tackling this complex problem. Attendees also learned about frameworks that can be used for assessing equity.

What does it mean to have inclusive leaders at every level? Why is it important for organizational cultural change? How can we best enable and empower both formal and informal leaders to build more inclusive cultures? This summit strand focused on how organizational change is accelerated when inclusive leaders are recognized and empowered at all levels, independent of their hierarchical position in the org-chart. Attendees learned what it takes to be an inclusive leader, how to help others become inclusive leaders, and how these skills can enable organizations to tackle difficult conversations and foster real organizational change. Practical examples and resources from both Dr. Allen’s work and the NCWIT Tech Inclusion Journey framework helped attendees take action and apply this information back in their own organizations.  

Power and influence are profoundly important to the project of building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive tech ecosystem, and yet we rarely talk about — and never attempt to measure — these critical factors. This strand addressed this gap by unpacking findings from NCWIT’s cutting-edge research about how power and status operate on technical teams, who has access to it, and how we might distribute it more intentionally. Participants were introduced to PowerTilt – a new tool to help teams understand their own dynamics and build more inclusive cultures of power and influence. ▶ Watch the video.

Recruitment and retention strategies might feel intuitive for the tech industry, but establishing similar practices across the K-12 and post-secondary ecosystems can be more challenging. Developing concrete strategies to broaden participation of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) students in K-12 and higher education is a critical component in building and expanding inclusivity in CS education. What are the current best practices for ensuring that historically marginalized students have access, exposure, and remain in CS? How might recruitment and retention efforts look different in the PK-5 space? Across minority-serving institutions? Attendees learned about important ways to actively engage a broad range of students, and to ensure all students have the skills needed to thrive.

Inflammatory rhetoric over social issues related to gender fluidity, critical race theory, and systemic racism/sexism increasingly permeate public discourse and debate. While this climate may, at first glance, seem to be broader and beyond the realm of tech, it deeply affects our efforts to promote equity in technical contexts as well. At the same time, technology communities are perhaps uniquely situated to tackle these concerns head on. This strand explored how the “Manosphere” and other coordinated efforts are working to shore up the gender binary in ways that also undermine broader efforts to address systemic sexism, racism and other inequities. Attendees learned how technology and technical communities are both being used to accelerate inflammatory discourse but also uniquely situated to intervene in the spread of such discourse. Attendees left with an enhanced understanding of how these issues affect technical communities and practical strategies for intervening in ways that foster positive change. ▶ Watch the video.

Want to do a better job of recruiting and retaining diverse students in undergraduate computing? Want to make CS curriculum more engaging and effective for all students? This strand explored the latest research on inclusive pedagogies in CS education, with a particular focus on innovative uses of educational technology. Attendees learned from several real-life case studies, success stories, and interactive demonstrations. Attendees also shared and learned from each other’s experiences with similar issues and walked away with an action plan for putting inclusive pedagogies into action at their home institutions. ▶ Watch the video

Reminder: Find Your Contacts in Whova

We appreciate everyone who attended this year’s event. The conference agenda and all associated files will be archived and removed from the app on August 18th. Contacts you saved at the 2023 NCWIT Summit will remain available.

Highlights from Day One

Color photo from the 2023 NCWIT Summit of Executive Director Terry Hogan and Founder Lucy Sanders on the plenary stage.
Terry Hogan (L) and Lucy Sanders (R) starting the 2023 NCWIT Summit.

Following a catch-up with NCWIT Executive Director Terry Hogan and co-founder Lucy Sanders on the plenary stage, the 2023 NCWIT Summit started by celebrating the innovative work of Dr. Erna Schneider Hoover. Her work revolutionized modern telephone communications, and she delivered a brief acceptance speech about her experiences after she was awarded the 2023 Pioneer in Tech Award. Over the course of the event, thought leaders and changemakers convened  to explore a variety of issues impacting both computer science education and the tech industry.

"NCWIT's Summit continues to highlight the latest research and practices that give change leaders the information, tools, and resources they need to create inclusive cultures in their home organizations. It was a thrill to be back in person for the first time since 2019 and to be inspired by the amazing passion our community has for increasing the equitable, meaningful, and influential participation of people marginalized by gender in tech."
Terry Hogan Photo
Terry Hogan
Executive Director and CTO
Color photo of Ijeoma Oluo speaking on the plenary stage at the 2023 NCWIT Summit.
Ijeoma Oluo speaking on the plenary stage.

The Opener: A Conversation for Change with Ijeoma Oluo

Best-selling author and Internet yeller
Ijeoma Oluo was the first keynote speaker on the plenary stage, and she delivered a powerful personal example of why tech must improve – especially in terms of the industry’s relationship with Black women. Speaking from experience as a Black woman who left the tech industry to begin a new career in writing in her 30s, she highlighted the impact of identity within workplace cultures. Regrettably, many professional spaces remain fraught with aggressions that continue to fuel turnover and loss of diverse talent. In 2020, Accenture and Girls Who Code estimated that half of women in tech leave by age 35.

“We must always be willing to correct course,” Ijeoma stated. “I want to stress that accountability is a relationship. There are a lot of attempts to hold people and systems accountable that will never work because the relationship is not there. We like to throw around terms like accountability as if they are the same as punishment. Accountability means that you have made a commitment to a particular relationship and that you have decided to be accountable for its upkeep – and for its repair. If we are to make progress, we cannot act like this exists outside of ourselves. You cannot act like you are bestowing good deeds upon people. You have to have the relationship.”

If you missed her speech on the plenary stage or would like to listen again, you can watch the full video here. An edited transcript is coming soon. To learn more and take action, use the following NCWIT resources:

Highlights from Day Two

Color photo of Dr. Brad McLain speaking on the plenary stage at the 2023 NCWIT Summit.
Dr. Brad McLain introduced his new book on the plenary stage.

The Research: Designing Transformative Experiences

NCWIT Director of Corporate Research
Dr. Brad McLain took to the plenary stage to share how his life experiences and decades of research led him to write a new book about intentionally designing transformative experiences that inspire personal and identity growth. From the years he spent at NASA to his current role as director of the Center for STEM Learning at the University of Colorado – Boulder (CU Boulder), Brad built upon his background in social science research to craft the ELVIS methodology as a framework leaders can use to understand and harness the potential in transformative moments. In this recorded keynote, he retraced the journey from experience to change and gave examples of leadership applications. 

“What I’d like to do is offer you a different view of leadership that you might not have heard of before that pulls out an entirely new toolkit of social science that we can use to become more inclusive leaders. It’s called Experience Design Leadership,” he explained. “Experience Design Leadership asks leaders to recast themselves. If you’re a leader at any level – by position, power, or top-down; an individual contributor, a teacher, an educator who is leading from below – recast yourself as a designer of experience.”

If you’d like to order the book and companion content, visit the website for Designing Transformative Experiences. Professors, if you would like to request an exam copy, visit the publisher’s website. To learn more, watch for the next NCWIT blog post that’s coming next month. It will feature excerpts from the book and notes from the author’s desk.

To ask Brad a question, join us at 10 a.m. PT / 11 a.m. MT / 12 p.m. CT / 1 p.m. ET on Aug. 31, 2023, for an Ask Me Anything (AMA). We will host a moderated, interactive, one-hour Q&A on the NCWIT Linkedin page. Follow NCWIT on Linkedin, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to get reminders, and tag leaders and experience designers to invite them to the discussion.

Dr. Khalia Braswell shared her journey on the plenary stage.

The Closer: Dr. Khalia Braswell’s Journey From Award Winner to Change Maker

Dr. Khalia Braswell is an award-winning technologist who was one of the first recipients of the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing (AiC) High School Award. She was also among the early recipients of an NCWIT AspireIT grant program for her middle school computing program, the INTech Summer Camp for Girls in North Carolina. Now, she’s making a big impact in her community. Read her full profile here, and watch the recording of her keynote here.

“I decided, even though I’m at somebody’s dream job – I’m working at Apple, I’m a designer, I’m doing user experience; like, things are cool, I’m living my California lifestyle – this isn’t enough,” she recalled. “I was not fulfilled in my job doing user experience at Apple because I felt like I could make a difference if I put all of my time and all of my energy into the organization that I started to give girls like me, in Charlotte, the opportunity that I had.”

After quitting her job, she committed herself to running the INTech camp for girls full-time. The 501(c)3 nonprofit has a mission to inform and inspire girls to innovate in the tech industry. It was founded in 2014, and what was originally conceived of as a one-day camp became a seed for something larger after a parent emailed Khalia following her first event to say she had changed the life of a young girl in 8 hours. Now, the students who have aged out of her programs are going on to pursue computer science, win awards at hackathons, and intern at Apple.

Want to attend next year’s NCWIT Summit? Follow us on social media and sign up for one of our newsletters to get event announcements and early registration details.

Thanks again to our 2023 NCWIT Summit sponsors – Bloomberg, Johnson & Johnson, PNC, and RBC Capital Markets — for making this event possible.

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