Role Models are Only Part of the Success Equation For Attracting Women to Technology
In a recent BioMed Central blog post offering her perspective on the challenges currently facing women in science and technology, Laura Wheeler of Digital Science cites the importance of having positive role models to encourage women’s participation in these fields. But, positive role models are only part of what it takes to turn the tides of underrepresentation.
In their CSTA Voice article, Lecia Barker and Joanne McGrath Cohoon suggest that a more comprehensive approach using active recruitment is needed to strengthen the pipeline of women in technology, and that computer science teachers who use this approach can make a real difference in the gender composition of their classes. Active recruitment involves four elements: Interest, Confidence, Belonging, and Identity.
Regarding interest, Barker and Cohoon suggest appealing to girls’ present interests, even though they will likely change over time. They recommend using examples to illustrate that with a computing education, girls can work anywhere and in just about any industry, and that having a job in computing does not mean sitting behind a computer all day.
To build confidence, they suggest providing classroom tasks that have enough challenge to be interesting but that are doable, such as solving logic puzzles.
To foster belonging, they suggest decorating classrooms with images of female leaders in computing and pictures of groups of students that include females, as well as showing videos of successful female computer scientists and asking students to learn more about them and their careers.
Last, they suggest understanding girls’ identity needs and demonstrating that understanding through the use of language in class communication and in assignments, such as by using gender-mix or gender-indeterminate names.
In summary, in order for a person to pursue a certain career, she has to be interested in it in terms of what she can do with it, believe she can belong, believe she will be successful, and see a possible self in it.
For more detailed information on these strategies and how they can broaden computer science appeal, watch Lecia Barker discuss them during a session at the 2013 CSTA conference.
Ways to Give Students More Effective Feedback Using a Growth Mindset
A recent article from FSUNews.com discusses a newly published study by Florida State University that suggests many American girls are discouraged from pursuing a college degree in STEM fields because of a widespread misconception that one must be born gifted with the ability to master difficult mathematics.
However, intelligence can be developed through effort and practice, and wise feedback. When students understand that the brain responds to mental effort the way their muscles respond to exercise, they’re more likely to persist in the face of challenges. “NCWIT Tips: 8 Ways to Give Students More Effective Feedback Using a Growth Mindset” provides additional suggestions on how to give more effective student feedback using a growth mindset. For example, recognize that preparation and ability are not the same thing; give students who catch on less quickly the foundation and practice to hone the new skill or understand the new knowledge, using examples more closely aligned with the students’ own backgrounds.
Additional NCWIT resources for encouraging students in computing include How Can Encouragement Increase Persistence in Computing? Encouragement Works in Academic Settings (Case Study 1) and How Do You Introduce Computing in an Engaging Way? Snap, Create, and Share with Scratch (Case Study 5).
How Learning to Code Changed the Lives of Six Women
Brit + Co recently featured the stories of six women whose lives were changed by learning to code with help from AGA Alliance Member Girl Develop It, a non-profit organization that seeks to provide affordable and judgment-free opportunities for women interested in learning web and software development. Through in-person classes and community support in 50 U.S. cities, Girl Develop It helps women of diverse backgrounds achieve their technology goals and build confidence in their careers and their everyday lives. Though the women featured are of different ages and backgrounds and have had different challenges as well as different coding interests, all of them provide inspiring perspectives on how coding can transform women’s lives.
The NCWIT Scorecard offers several reasons as to why computing is a good career for women, including security and stability. For example, in 2013, when the overall unemployment rate in the U.S. was 7.4%, the unemployment rate for computer and mathematical occupations was 3.6%, and for women in these fields, it was only 4.2%.
Can Bias Training Really Improve Diversity in Tech?
In response to publicized efforts by Silicon Valley to use bias training to increase diversity, a recent article discussed whether this type of training can really make a difference, noting several important observations and recommendations. Companies often spend millions on poorly designed training, and, even when training is done well, it alone will never be enough. Lasting change results from a multi-pronged, “ecosystem” approach that, among other things, involves collecting specific data on where bias exists and using these findings to determine where to take action.
Unfortunately, we also sometimes hear these articles (or the studies they are based on) erroneously used to imply that bias training has been shown to be fundamentally ineffective. It’s important, however, not to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Instead, we need to dig more deeply to see why such trainings might be less effective in specific contexts. Perhaps they were poorly designed. Perhaps they were implemented as a one-time or stand-alone strategy. Perhaps inappropriate measures were used to assess their effectiveness. For example, we should never expect bias training alone to result in larger increases in workforce diversity numbers, but we might expect it to result in increases in organizational climate surveys or similar measures.
Even so, we need to remember that significant increases in these kinds of quantifiable measures also take time. And often aspects of subtle social factors like biases are difficult to really capture in quantifiable ways. To really get at some of these issues, we also need to value and implement more qualitative measures of success.
NCWIT’s website offers free resources to help organizations address bias and to make these part of a broader ecosystem effort for real and lasting change:
Supervising-in-a-Box Series: Employee Development
How Can Reducing Unconscious Bias Increase Women’s Success in IT? Avoiding Unintended Bias in Letters of Recommendation (Case Study 1)
How Can Reducing Unconscious Bias Increase Women’s Success in IT? Avoiding Gender Bias in Recruitment/Selection Processes (Case Study 2)