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.
Bias Manifests Itself in Cultures
Everyone possesses implicit biases simply from being members of our larger society, as noted in Women in Tech: The Facts, an NCWIT report (chapter 2). From the time we are young, we acquire culturally-based schemas (or mental models) for the objects, systems, activities, and other people in our world. These schemas are important and function as shortcuts that allow us to quickly assimilate and filter the massive amounts of information we encounter every day. However, these schemas also lead us to filter information in ways that may lead to misperceptions, misinterpretations, or misunderstandings, resulting in unconscious biases.
See how these biases carry over into computing classrooms and office spaces:
As an example from a Forbes article, featuring NCWIT Research Director Catherine Ashcraft, “Multiple studies have also shown that teachers default to calling on boys more frequently and asking girls to take class notes. Ultimately, this method of teaching leads girls to shut down and prevents them from making the connection between technology in the classroom and how it can be used to solve problems in the world around them.”
As another example from this article, “College and university admissions emphasize weeding out students for expertise and experience rather than encouraging exploration. Rewarding prior success improperly conflates the idea of experience with ability. Just because girls did not begin early with computer science does not mean they cannot catch up to or even surpass male counterparts. This ingrained approach does a disservice to women in tech and misses an opportunity to widen the funnel of females entering the field.”
As an example from The Facts (page 22), “Subtle instances of implicit bias often build upon each other, creating environments that push underrepresented employees out the door. Microinequities—often caused by implicit bias—are subtle, cumulative, and repeated negative messages that can devalue, discourage, and impair performance in the workplace. These messages include looks, gestures, tone of voice, and other verbal and non-verbal signals. They often accumulate in ways that lead employees to underperform, withdraw from co-workers, and ultimately leave the workplace.”
It is important to remember that, more often than not, these biases are not the result of any ill intentions. The goal, therefore, is not to find fault or assign blame; this is not about fixing people, but rather it is about recognizing and interrupting these biases, thereby fixing the environment:
What can educators do? Pay attention to your interactions with students and be on the lookout for unconscious biases: make sure to allocate equal time on the computer for girls; call on girls equally in the classroom; assign difficult problems to girls as well as boys; spend time equally between girls and boys; partner with a colleague to observe each other’s classes for these kinds of patterns. Take a look at Girls in IT: The Facts, an NCWIT report (section 3), for additional practical recommendations for educators.
What can postsecondary institutions do? You can take small steps towards systemic change. Find out what Carnegie Mellon University, the University of California at Irvine, and the University of Virginia did in this NCWIT Promising Practice resource: How Can You Re-Engineer Your Undergraduate Program to Increase Women’s Representation in Computing?
What can supervisors do? Use Supervising-in-a-Box Series: Employee Development to reduce or remove unconscious bias, discriminatory practices, and institutional barriers; and ensure that employees contribute their best ideas and talents to the team.