What Can Computing Educators Do to Address Barriers to Increasing Young Women’s Participation?

Get off to an empowering start this back-to-school season! Whether you’re a parent, an educator, or a professional, we are highlighting doable, research-backed steps that you can take to make computing education more accessible and inclusive.

View the other blogs from this three-part series: What Can Family Members Do? || What Can YOU Do?

Research clearly shows that having diversity in the tech workforce improves problem-solving, productivity, innovation, and even the bottom line (www.ncwit.org/businesscase). At the same time, encouraging women’s increased participation in technology careers supports their access to the high-paying, fast-growing field of computing. Though a variety of barriers to gender equality still exist, the good news is, when it comes to creating change, everyone can play a role.

Straight from the NCWIT Girls in IT: The Facts report, here are several ways that K-12 and postsecondary educators, in particular, can help women students envision themselves in tech careers and take full advantage of the computing education that’s available to them.

  • Mentor young girls interested in computing; multi-level mentoring has been shown to be particularly effective. Having many mentors and individuals supporting and encouraging participation can help girls increase interest in computing. Programs such as the STARS Alliance (http://www.starsalliance.org/) provide mentoring across stages; for example, professors mentor graduate or undergraduate students who mentor “near-peer” high school girls. A variety of programs using this multi-level mentoring model have produced positive results in improving girls’ perceptions of computing; likewise, the college students serving as mentors also describe these programs as helping them feel empowered. Also, remember that mentoring does not only have to take place in person. Telementoring or e-mentoring can be an effective method to bring mentors or role models to girls who may not have any locally. See www.mentornet.net for an example of one such program.
  • Host or offer computing outreach programs for younger students using campus facilities and resources. A variety of informal or summer programs for increasing girls’ participation have been implemented at university and college campuses. Hosting these events on college campuses provides access to resources that local schools do not always have and also allows many girls (and other students) to experience a college campus for the first time.
  • Ensure that your department employs inclusive practices that will retain young women who do decide to enroll in computing classes. It won’t help to recruit girls into computing programs if they end up wanting to leave. Be sure that your department has created an inclusive and supportive culture and employs inclusive pedagogies in the computing classroom. View NCWIT Promising Practices and recommendations from Extension Services for Undergraduate Programs for comprehensive tips on creating change by revising the educational system, not by changing women to fit existing, broken systems.

See Girls in IT: The Facts for complete documentation of the research cited here, plus more ways to get involved!

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