News on the Radar: 7/28/21

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 women’s enrollment in undergraduate STEM programs has held steady during the pandemic?

A study of Spring 2021 college enrollment conducted by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center revealed a notable decrease in undergraduate enrollment, according to a recent article by Liann Herder published on the website Diverse: Issues In Higher Education. The article notes that there had been “significant losses in programs associated with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)” in particular, prompting concerns that recent gains in representation could be reversed for some marginalized groups. However, the study also showed that the rate of transfer students “moving from two to four year institutions actually increased,” and while enrollment numbers went down for male students, “[w]omen’s enrollment in bachelor-level STEM programs didn’t seem to experience any impact from the pandemic.” In fact, some colleges are seeing increases in the number of women enrolling in STEM programs. NCWIT Academic Alliance Member Georgia Tech, for example, was able to increase enrollment among women through targeted recruitment strategies. The article also notes that the decision by some colleges to make standardized test scores optional as a result of the pandemic has contributed to shifts in the demographics of their applicant pools. One admissions director observed that at his institution, “While 37% of applicants chose not to include a test, 63% of first-generation students chose to apply without a test score.”

The NCWIT Systemic Change Model for Undergraduate Education is designed to help computing programs, departments, and institutions develop and carry out strategic plans for improving representation of women and members of other historically marginalized groups. Covering recruitment, curriculum, student support, teaching practices, institutional policy, and ongoing evaluation, the model includes research-based recommendations for action at every step. For example, one important factor for computing programs to consider is the messaging being used to introduce the program to potential students: does it emphasize computing’s real-world, socially relevant applications, and show that a diverse range of people belong in the field? Faculty and administrators can also collaborate with individuals and offices — on or off campus — to spread awareness about the impactful, creative, and stable careers that students can access with a background in computing. Find more ideas, plus links to additional resources, here.

Did you know that Culturally Responsive-Sustaining CS Education addresses the racial gap in access to computing programs?

NCWIT K-12 Alliance Member The Kapor Center for Social Impact recently published a report on Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Computer Science Education: A Framework. Noting that equitable access to computer science education “is a critical national priority to address racial and economic disparities in the tech sector,” the report asserts that “a multi-pronged approach centering racial justice is required to ensure meaningful participation, success, and matriculation in computer science education for students from all demographic backgrounds.” To this end, the Culturally Responsive-Sustaining CS Framework was designed as a research-based resource to guide teacher preparation and curriculum development. The report includes a robust definition of culturally responsive-sustaining computer science classroom pedagogy as well as six core components, each of which includes several action items. Some of the goals of culturally responsive-sustaining computer science pedagogy, according to the report, include ensuring that “students’ interests, identities, and cultures are embraced and validated,” that students “develop knowledge of computing content and its utility in the world,” that “strong CS identities are developed,” and that students “engage in larger socio-political critiques about technology’s purpose, potential, and impact.”

For more on culturally responsive computing, see the NCWIT resource, How Can You Engage A Diverse Range of Girls in Technology? This resource includes information about the pedagogical principles underlying this approach, as well as a case study describing the use of culturally responsive computing in the COMPUGIRLS program. The case study notes, “Key to the program’s success is its focus not only on computing but also on critical conversations around difference in society, social justice, and the process of becoming technosocial change agents.” This echoes the foundational ideas that “all students are capable of technical innovation,” and that “interest and ability in technical innovation [are] fostered when students examine connections between technology, computing, and their emerging identities.” A further observation from the case study is that “opportunities for play and exploration are important to balance discouragement that can arise when talking about social inequities.” Read more here.

Did you know that remote work offers new ways to support LGBTQ people in the workplace?

A recent article by Jennifer Liu, posted on the CNBC Make It website, explores some of the ways that the shift to remote work has led to positive workplace experiences for LGBTQ individuals. For example, one interviewee explained that remote work allowed him to take an opportunity that he might have passed up if it had required him to move to a smaller, less accepting city. Another person said that having a largely virtual presence enabled them to have more control over how they presented themselves to colleagues, including easier ways to share their pronouns and fewer judgements based on their perceived gender. The author notes, “With isolation and added stress during the pandemic, many companies encouraged individuals to find support through employee resource groups,” which had the benefit of enabling LGBTQ employees from across a company to connect with one another “through online discussions and events.” And, since many conferences and professional gatherings shifted online as well, employees at smaller companies gained more opportunities to participate in larger-scale events without the need to secure funding for travel. The article points out that although there have been many upsides to remote work, harassment and hostility towards LGBTQ people can continue to occur in online workplaces. In addition, some LGBTQ people may have less favorable experiences with the shift to remote work. (For example, perhaps some feel more exposed with their homelife on display in the background during Zoom calls.) For these reasons, Liu reminds readers, “These incidents show that just as employers should create and enforce policies that protect all workers in a physical workplace, they must also be considered in online spaces.”

An NCWIT blog post, Building More Inclusive Cultures At Work While We’re At Home, offers suggestions for both managers and employees who want to address the specific challenges that working remotely may pose for inclusion. While the pandemic prompted many variations on the message that “we’re all in this together,” in reality, the authors note, “this type of crisis tends to amplify existing inequities, especially those related to race, class, language, ability, and other marginalized identities.” Nonetheless, it also brings its own set of opportunities to establish cultural norms that promote equity and inclusiveness. From adopting a “spirit of inquiry” to modeling a powerful form of vulnerability, this resource includes things that anyone can do, no matter what their role in the organization.

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