Here is a brief round-up of information and news that crossed NCWIT’s radar recently and which we think will be of interest to you. The practices or content of the news gathered (while not endorsed or vetted by NCWIT) is meant to spark new conversations and ideas surrounding the current diversity statistics and trends in the tech workforce. We encourage you to add your two cents on this month’s topics in the comments below.
Did you know that the latest issue of re:think, the thought leadership magazine from NCWIT, explores a variety of topics related to age and the tech industry?
The following is an excerpt from When Tech Doesn’t Age Well, by NCWIT Social Science Program Director Timothy Faiella. Read the full article (plus many more) at ncwit.org/rethink.
Ageism not only affects how tech is marketed, but also how it is developed and adopted. On the flip side, technology can play a role both in perpetuating and/or disrupting ageism. No doubt, age bias is ingrained in the technical workforce, particularly for women. But, by understanding historical and current contexts, we can mitigate the barriers that prevent older people from contributing to technological innovations that would benefit us all.
Ageism is discrimination against a person based on their age. These biases are most often held toward elderly or middle-aged people, but it can also be true that these biases affect youth. NCWIT uses intersectional approaches to increase the meaningful and influential participation of women and girls in computing, recognizing that one’s social location ― oftentimes shaped by race, class, gender, and other dimensions of who we are ― creates multiple, interconnected identities and distinct experiences. Age is one of these intersections. It’s important to investigate how it interacts with the other social identities, and how these intersections might lead to greater barriers, fewer opportunities, and more hostile work environments.
As a nation, we are getting older. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, in 2018, the life expectancy at birth was 78.7 years. That number has risen steadily over the past hundred years (in 1900, life expectancy at birth was 47.3 years). Census data shows that the average household is shrinking (from 3.3 people in 1960 to 2.53 people in 2020). Families are growing vertically and shrinking horizontally.
In the United States, aging is viewed primarily as a process of decline. We’re perceived to lose skills, mobility, and brain power. It’s assumed that older people are less able to assimilate new information. While work experience is often valued, this seems to be less true of the tech workforce, where older employees’ skills are often considered obsolete and older employees are often relegated to less-influential projects. Bias against older workers costs the U.S. economy an estimated $850 billion annually. About 57 percent can be attributed to involuntary retirement. The impact on women is particularly severe — one-third of that total lost GDP is from women being forced to retire sooner than they would prefer, due to age discrimination. And, these dynamics are moving in the wrong direction. By 2050, that number is projected to climb to almost $4 trillion.
To make matters worse, a recent AARP survey found that nearly half of older workers concerned about job security worry that their age will impair their ability to find a new job, with women slightly more concerned than men. Among the most vulnerable, those who believe they could lose their job within the year, 61 percent believe their age would be a factor.
Because of its rate of change, tech is commonly considered a realm of youth — products are developed by, used by, and marketed toward young people. Including older workers in this process is particularly important because it helps ensure that the needs of aging populations are considered and met.
The good news is, there are many ways to combat ageism and mitigate its impacts. For example, accommodations such as flexible scheduling options can make a big difference in retaining older employees. Read the full article, and find more ways that employers can support individuals of all ages in the tech workforce, at ncwit.org/rethink.
Did you know that stress factors can impact student performance in computing classes?
A recent study by researchers at NCWIT Academic Alliance Member University of California (UC) San Diego explored factors beyond the course material that may contribute to lower performance for students in introductory computing courses, according to an article on the UC San Diego – Jacobs School of Engineering website. The researchers found that “lower performing students reported higher stress levels on multiple factors — including cognitive, socio-economic, and personal — than higher performing students, indicating that when students struggle, they are often facing headwinds on multiple fronts.” These challenges included stressors such as work family or obligations, lack of confidence, and lack of a sense of belonging in the class. The authors also observed that “[t]he issue of struggle across multiple factors was particularly prevalent for students from groups traditionally underrepresented in computing — including women, Latinx and Black students.” While the study focused more on understanding the issues than on finding solutions, the authors did note some potentially promising avenues for intervention. At the level of individual courses, for example, instructors can help alleviate student stress by providing flexibility in assignment deadlines. More systemic approaches, such as ensuring that K-12 students have some exposure to computing education before college and reworking financial aid requirements, were also noted.
NCWIT offers many resources for faculty, staff, and program administrators who want to support student persistence and success in computing majors. Here are a few selections to check out:
- How Can Encouragement Increase Persistence in Computing? // Encouragement increases self-efficacy, which is the belief in one’s ability to successfully perform a task.
- Survey-in-a-Box: Student Experience of the Major // Use this tool to identify strengths and areas for improving your department’s efforts to retain students.
- How Do You Retain Women Through Inclusive Pedagogy? // Instructional practices offer opportunities to level the playing field and improve the retention of students from underrepresented groups.
Did you know that just 51 percent of U.S. high schools offer computer science courses?
Earlier this month, NCWIT K-12 Alliance Members Code.org, the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), and Expanding Computing Education Pathways Alliance (ECEP) released the 2021 State of Computer Science Education: Accelerating Action Through Advocacy. This annual report provides an update on national and state-level computer science education policy with an emphasis on equity and diversity. The report notes that while the percentage of U.S. high schools offering computer science education has risen from 35 percent in 2018 to 51 percent in 2021, it is still “inadequate that half of schools lack even a single course.” The report also points out that disparities in access to computing education exist. In particular, “Rural schools, urban schools, and schools with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students continue to be less likely to offer computer science; and Black/African American students, Hispanic/Latino/Latina/Latinx students, and Native American/Alaskan students are less likely to attend a school that offers it.” In addition to observations about the current state of computing education, the report shares policy recommendations designed to help make computer science a fundamental part of the state education system. For example, the report authors call on policymakers to create a clear state plan for computer science education; establish rigorous K-12 computer science standards; and allocate funding for professional development for educators.
NCWIT offers a variety of resources for educators and others who want to expand access to computing education. Check out the selections below, and visit ncwit.org/resources for more.
- Computer Science Professional Development Guide // This resource presents four clear, straightforward steps for building computer science capacity among K-12 teachers, counselors and administrators.
- NCWIT Scorecard: The Status of Women in Computing [2020 Update] // The NCWIT Scorecard shows trends in girls’ and women’s participation in computing in the U.S. over time, providing a benchmark for measuring progress and identifying areas for improvement.
- Organize: Broadening Participation in Computing State Summit Toolkit // State summits that bring diverse stakeholders together can help to develop and advance a state’s computing education strategy. This toolkit will help you plan and execute a successful summit.