News on the Radar: 6/30/21

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 policy interventions can help improve equity in colleges and universities?

A recent report by the Institute for Higher Education Policy examines policies that lead to the overrepresentation of white students at colleges and universities, particularly those institutions considered to be “selective,” and makes several recommendations for improvement. An article by Scott Jaschik in Inside Higher Ed summarizes the report’s findings. The report points out that many of the institutions that are “best positioned to invest financially in underserved students’ success” tend to “prioritize recruiting white and affluent high schoolers.” Instead, the report suggests, “Colleges should adjust their policies on recruiting students to focus on minority students, poor students and students who may not be the colleges’ prime target.” Other recommendations include rethinking “demonstrated interest” and “early decision” policies, which have the effect of favoring students who have more resources to devote to the college application and selection process. In addition, the report recommends eliminating standardized tests, legacy admissions, and questions about applicants’ experience with the criminal justice system, all of which have the potential to reproduce systemic biases, and it encourages schools to invest more in need-based financial aid.

Dream Corps Founder and CNN Host Van Jones also spoke about the need for policy interventions to support greater equity in higher education during his Conversations for Change keynote at the 2021 Virtual NCWIT Summit. He noted that when students from underfunded schools participate in computing programs through Dream Corps, it is often helpful to offer a few weeks of “pre-programming” to prime them for success. As Jones explained, “Society is not giving [all students] the same amount of help. So by the time they get to you, there’s a deficit of help. There’s a deficit of support. And if you’re not willing to lean in and say you know what, we’ll make up for that, we’ll put in extra resources or extra effort, then you’re not going to have success… We’re not asking people to play favorites; we’re asking people to play fair.” If you missed this or any of the other vNCWIT Summit sessions, you find links to all of the recordings here.

Did you know that many K-12 educators believe current computing curricula do not meet the needs of a diverse student body?

Results of a nationwide survey conducted by two members of the NCWIT K-12 Alliance, the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) and the Kapor Center for Social Impact, have recently been released. Goals of the study included gaining a better understanding of the background, demographics, preparation, and experiences of PreK-12 computer science teachers, as well as learning more about the kinds of support and resources that would best support teachers in implementing culturally relevant computing and pedagogical practices. In an overview of the study’s findings posted on the CSTA blog, Brian Twarek observes, “While 77 percent of teachers acknowledged the importance of incorporating diverse cultures and experiences to the success of their students, only 57 percent felt equipped to utilize culturally-relevant pedagogical practices.” In addition, only 65 percent of teachers “believed that existing CS curricular resources meet the needs of a diverse student body.” Some recommendations offered by the report include developing incentive structures to recruit and retain a diverse pool of computing teachers; developing “comprehensive teacher training, certification, and endorsement programs aligned to an equity-focused computing education framework;” and building district-wide coalitions to support and implement plans for increasing equity in computing.

In a conversation with NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Community Engagement Manager TJ Alladin during the Pioneer in Tech Award Celebration at the Virtual NCWIT Summit, 2021 NCWIT Pioneer in Tech Award Recipient Dr. Gladys West also highlighted the importance of culturally relevant role models for students who belong to demographics that are underrepresented in computing. As a student, she didn’t have many math professors who were Black women that she could talk to. When she attended her first national conference of the AKA sorority and met thousands of Black women from a wide range of professions, she recalled, “That was really impressive to me, because we hadn’t seen it [before]. And they were everything that I had imagined in my mind that a professional Black woman would look like. And so for me they were role models; it helped me because I tried to emulate them.” Dr. West, who was the second Black woman ever to be hired at the Dahlgren Naval Proving Ground and whose work laid the foundations for modern GPS, is now a role model to countless others. If you missed this or any of the other vNCWIT Summit sessions, you find links to all of the recordings here.

Did you know that diverse teams are good for businesses’ bottom lines?

A study commissioned by .Tech Domains in May 2021 sought to identify the structural challenges that have a tendency to slow progress on racial and gender equity in the tech world, despite increased attention to these issues over the past year. Key findings from the report were summarized in a recent article by Tasmiya Sayed. Some of the barriers to change that study participants mentioned include persistent bias against women and people of color, fewer advancement opportunities for members of minoritized groups, and a lack of diversity among leadership teams. Sayed points out that companies have a business incentive to increase diversity, citing studies from McKinsey & Company that “show that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are ‘more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians.’” For the tech world to live up to its promises of equity and inclusion, Sayed says, “It’s absolutely crucial that organizations diversify the makeup of their leadership teams to ensure that they are representative of the entire workforce and in touch with their beliefs and values.” She also notes that addressing inequalities in access to computing education at the K-12 level is a necessary step toward greater equity in tech.

In her Conversations for Change keynote at the 2021 Virtual NCWIT Summit, Dr. Lisa D. Cook also spoke about the economic costs of inequality in the tech world. Discussing her work on racial and gender gaps in U.S. patenting, Dr. Cook explained, “One of the most durable findings of my research is that single sex patent teams are worse at invention than mixed gender teams… These mixed gender teams make this case that diversity, when it is executed [across] many different dimensions, is good for innovation.” With mixed-gender teams being more successful at commercializing their innovations than single-sex (male or female) teams, Dr. Cook continued, “if CEOs and Chief Innovation Officers are not seeking to make sure that patent teams are integrated along many dimensions, such as gender, such as race, such as ethnicity, then they’re leaving money on the table.” Dr. Cook also offered several recommendations on how to reduce systemic barriers to full participation in the innovation process, including: developing mentoring programs that introduce members of underrepresented groups to inventors; improving the work environment for minoritized groups; and tracking progress by collecting data on patenting demographics on an ongoing basis. If you missed this or any of the other vNCWIT Summit sessions, you find links to all of the recordings here.


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