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.
The “Why So Few Women in CS” Question Needs Clarification
A recent GoodCall article sought to answer the question of why there are so few women in computer science and computing fields, despite the fact that computer science was originally a female-dominated area and computing was considered “women’s work,” as depicted in the movie Hidden Figures.
Wendy DuBow, senior research scientist at the National Center for Women & Information Technology, clarified that computing had been female-dominated but not considered a science yet, and that programming wasn’t necessarily considered women’s work but was originally dominated by mathematicians, who tended to be women.
DuBow also noted that, despite the drop in the number of women obtaining computer science degrees, the statistics have been see-sawing for years. “For instance, in 2003, the number of women earning CS degrees was about the same as in 1987, but the number of men who earned those degrees had grown even more, so the percentage of women remained lower.”
Historical and societal influences at play include advertisements depicting women not knowing how to use technology, early home computers being marketed for use by boys instead of both genders, and the growth of popular computing companies run by men. DuBow adds that even college campuses unwittingly contributed to the trend by housing computer science in its own department instead of in math or humanities departments, for example, where female students were plentiful.
Recently, there have been positive changes, such as the fact that college students of both genders are taking introductory computer science classes in increasing numbers. And though the percentages of women in computer science in the workplace may be stagnant, the number of women in the computing workforce has increased, according to DuBow.
Awareness and education at every level are the keys to reversing the decline of women in computer science. Ideas include making computer science courses a required part of college curricula, giving elementary and middle school girls more exposure to computing, and inviting women in technology fields to speak to students and provide advice for working in the industry.
NCWIT has many resources for raising awareness in this area, such as the following:
Top 10 Ways to Engage Underrepresented Students in Computing
Key Practices for Retaining Undergraduates in Computing
Diversity in Computing: Why It Matters and How Organizations Can Achieve It
How to Fix Your Unconsciously Biased Address Book
In a 2015 USA Today article, Rick Klau, a partner at Google Ventures, offered tips for how people, especially men, can be more conscious of their networks and how they engage with women at work and online.
His insights came after a review of his address book revealed the same approximate 80/20 split between male and female as he had discovered with his social network accounts, such as Twitter and LinkedIn. This phenomenon is supported by a 23-year-old study, authored by Herminia Ibarra, which concluded that “network mechanisms operate to create and reinforce gender inequalities in the workplace.”
Klau’s suggestions include the following:
Understand unconscious bias. Klau believes that once “bias” is a fact rather than a stigma, people can get to work on compensating for it.
Know your own ratio. Klau suggests that people review their social media followers and use tools such as Twitter’s analytics and Followerwonk to determine their starting gender ratios, and then track improvements to the ratios.
Push for gender diversity and insist on a code of conduct at events, and avoid all male panels and all-male speaker line-ups. Klaus notes that he won’t participate in panel discussions that are all men.
Follow more women on Twitter, regardless of areas of interest. More generally, Klaus suggests that people follow others “who don’t look like them.”
Listen. Klau believes that when men engage with more women, they become more aware of their experiences, and more conscious of their challenges. This can be as easy as following more women on social media.
NCWIT offers resources for helping to recognize and curb unconscious bias in various aspects of the workplace, including the following:
Interrupting Bias in Industry Settings
Unconscious Bias and Why It Matters For Women and Tech
NCWIT Checklist for Reducing Unconscious Bias in Job Descriptions/Advertisements
How Moneyball Helped to Address a Company’s Diversity Problem
In a recent Fast Company article, author Reshma Shetty, co-founder of Ginkgo Bioworks, describes how she began to view her startup’s diversity problems more urgently after seeing the movie Moneyball, which provided an accidental crash course in “sabermetrics.”
The movie tells the story of how Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane used the statistical analysis of baseball to identify and sign great players who were undervalued according to the typical criteria used by other teams to create a winning team that set a record of 20 consecutive wins during the 2002 season.
The movie inspired Shetty to pursue the idea that diversity issues could also be solved by looking for talent that’s being systematically undervalued by the competition — i.e., women and underrepresented minorities, who typically hold fewer positions and make less money in the tech industry than other demographic groups.
Shetty notes that simply talking about their diversity problem and how they might tackle it pushed hiring managers to take a closer look at candidates from underrepresented groups and come up with ways to approach them more effectively. The hiring managers then asked the recruiters they worked with to look out for those candidates explicitly. The company also made cultural changes, such as changing some of their happy hours to breakfast meetings to better accommodate working parents.
Shetty concedes that their new approach to diversity didn’t magically solve their problems. Nonetheless, she noted that 2016 was the year the company reversed the downward trend in its team gender ratio, entering 2017 with 37.5 percent women, compared to 23 percent just 12 months before. Further, their ratio of women in technical (35.8 percent) and leadership positions (34.5 percent) is now close to their overall percentage.
NCWIT offers resources on how to bolster diversity in the workplace, such as 10 Actionable Ways to Actually Increase Diversity in Tech, as well as resources on how to report on diversity numbers, such as NCWIT Tips: 8 Tips for Announcing Your Workforce Diversity Numbers.