Stereotypes and Environments Strongly Influence a Woman’s Decision
Author Elieen Pollack poses the following question in a New York Times article: What really keeps women out of tech? She turned to Sapna Cheryan’s work for some answers. Dr. Cheryan, a psychology professor at the University of Washington, has spent the last six years studying why girls in high school are significantly less likely than boys to take computing classes, major in STEM-related subjects, or even express an interest in computer science as a career.
Among Dr. Cheryan’s key findings, classroom environments strongly influenced a young woman’s decision to take computing classes. For example, one of the things Dr. Cheryan and her team found over and over again is that female students are more interested in enrolling in computer classes if they see a classroom decorated with neutral décor as opposed to classrooms decorated with “Star Wars” posters, science-fiction books, computer parts, and tech magazines.
Another key finding is that students compare their notions of who they are to the stereotypes of a major or professional and then decides whether or not they will fit in.
Ultimately, the article concludes, “To make computer science more attractive to women, we might help young women change how they think about themselves and what’s expected of them. But we might also diversify the images of scientists they see in the media, along with the décor in the classrooms and offices in which they might want to study or work.”
NCWIT has created a number of resources on how to create an environment to better retain women in Computer Science including “How Do You Retain Women Through Inclusive Pedagogy?”
Ageism Has a Place in the Diversity Conversation
In an editorial at Medium.com, Journalist Steven Levy expressed his disappointment in a lack of conversation around individuals over 40 to 60 years old when it comes to addressing diversity issues in Silicon Valley.
While many diversity reports identify race in addition to gender, “not a single one of them reports age distribution.” (Although, he notes recent estimates from Payscale.) He’s calling for this to change. “And, even more important, those in charge of company cultures should view age diversity as a plus.”
The technology sector would benefit from the unique perspectives of technical women in this “older” age range, just as it would from the unique perspectives of technical women with different cultural backgrounds. Those who are making mid-life career changes, those who are returning to the workforce, or those who are opting to retire later should be considered as an equally valuable source for technical talent.
NCWIT has resources that can help companies attract, retain, and advance mid-career female employees: “How Can Companies Attract and Retain Mid-Career Female Employees?” and “Resources for Retaining and Advancing Mid-career Technical Women Guide.”
Women are Assessed Differently Than Men in Evaluations
A recent Wall Street Journal article summarizes a study by Stanford University’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research that found men and women are assessed differently at work — especially when it comes to providing feedback and selecting candidates for advancement.
The research team identified unconscious bias as one of the main reasons for these differences. As the article points out, “If bosses expect women to be more team-oriented and men to be more independent in their jobs, women may be more likely to be shunted into support roles rather than landing the core positions that lead to executive jobs.”
The research team is in the process of analyzing the language of hundreds of performance reviews from several technology and professional-services firms. “The magnitude of some of the differences and how consistent they were across the different samples was shocking,” says Dr. Caroline Simard, Director of Research at the Clayman Institute. As described in the article, here are several examples of what the research team has found so far:
Women’s reviews had 2.5 times the amount of feedback men did about aggressive communication styles (e.g. “Your speaking style is off-putting.”).
Men’s reviews contained twice as many words related to assertiveness, independence and self-confidence (e.g. words like “drive,” “transform,” “innovate,” and “tackle”).
Women’s reviews had more than twice the references to team accomplishments, rather than individual achievements.
Men’s reviews contained three times as much feedback linked to a specific business outcome and twice the number of references to their technical expertise.
One way to mitigate the gender biases that persist in performance reviews is for companies to avoid using vague criteria for evaluation — one of many tips offered in “Supervisor-in-a-Box Series: Performance Review/Talent Management.” View more feedback recommendations at-a-glance with “NCWIT Tips: 8 Ways to Give Employees More Effective Feedback Using a Growth Mindset.”
NYC Mayor Requires Public Schools to Offer CS within Ten Years
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently required all of the city’s public schools to offer computer science to all students within the next 10 years. This requirement is one of the mayor’s efforts to ensure all NYC kids have the skills needed to keep up with the city’s fast-growing technology sector.
The New York Times outlined the city’s current computing education numbers as well as details of the mayor’s plans. With less than 10 percent of city schools currently offering any form of computer science education, Mayor de Blasio’s plan will offer some type of exposure to computing to all students, regardless of their grade level or geographical neighborhood. (Computer science will not become a graduation requirement, and middle and high schools may choose to offer it only as an elective.)
The article identifies having enough qualified teachers as a key challenge that lies ahead. The city estimates that nearly 5,000 trained teachers are needed in order to meet the goal of providing instruction at every grade level. Additionally, many of those who are well-trained may choose a career in the industry over a career in education, as conveyed by Barbara Ericson, the Director of Computing Outreach at Georgia Tech’s College of Computing.
If this challenge is overcome, then not only will the number of candidates in the technology sector increase, but the pool of candidates will become more diverse. Gabrielle Fialkoff, the director of the city’s Office of Strategic Partnerships, said, “I think there is an acknowledgment that we need our students better prepared for these jobs and to address equity and diversity within the sector, as well.”
NCWIT resources available on increasing and engaging girls as well as other underrepresented students in computing include, “Top 10 Ways to Engage Underrepresented Students in Computing” and “How Can You Engage A Diverse Range of Girls in Technology?”