This newsletter provides a monthly recap of the biggest headlines about women and computing, news about NCWIT, and links to resources to equip you as change leaders for increasing women’s participation in technology. Practices or content of the news presented are not vetted or endorsed by NCWIT.
NCWIT in the News
Startups: Front and Center
From Demo Day at the White House to Start-up Day Across America, August put the importance of startups front and center. On Tuesday, August 4, the White House hosted a first-ever Demo Day for entrepreneurs to “pitch” their ideas to funders. NCWIT Entrepreneurial Alliance Member and NCWIT Pacesetter Techstars attended and announced their Diversity Commitment.
“This is all about an opportunity for us to show some leadership and help inspire the tech companies that come through our program. That is the real driver — and not hang our head in shame,” said David Brown, a Techstars Co-founder. Techstars provides seed funding from top venture capital firms and angel investors who are vested in the success of startups, as well as intense mentorship from hundreds of the best entrepreneurs in the world.
Other NCWIT Pacesetters SendGrid, SpotXchange, ReadyTalk, and Return Path gathered in Westminster, Colorado on August 19 in honor of Start-up Day Across America. Start-Up Day Across America connects elected officials with the startups in the communities they represent so that they can learn about the challenges new companies face and meet the business leaders building the future. Congressman Jared Polis joined the Pacesetters to hear about the Pacesetters’ ReturnShip program, which focuses on hiring women who have been out of the workforce for more than three years. SpotXchange recently announced their Engineering ReturnShip, a 22-week paid program geared to increase diversity in technology while also giving individuals who want to return after a hiatus an opportunity to expand their skills and experience.
Women & IT News Snippets
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:
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.
A TV Series Draws Attention to the Proportion of CS Women in the 1980s
Ever watch the AMC television series “Halt and Catch Fire,” which chronicles two young women running an upstart computer company in the 1980s? A recent CNN article used the series to highlight the differences between women in computing during that time versus today. Many people are surprised to find out that in the early 1980s, women made up a much larger proportion of the computing workforce than they do today.
Compared to 1985, more bachelor’s degrees in computing were completed in 2012, BUT the gap between the number of males and females receiving computing degrees continues to widen.This has occurred despite the number of computer science jobs increasing.
The CNN article explained the decrease of women in the field in terms of perceptions of computing: that coding is boring, that mass marketing and encouragement of computer usage by men has been going on since the mid-1980s, and that men and women think of the value of computers differently. For example, a University of British Columbia study suggests that men tend to see computers as a “toy,” and women tend to see them as a “tool.” The article also discusses the common male-centric laboratory climate in which women might be seen as foreign or even receive open hostility. However, the issue is more complex than what is presented. Additional explanations are that computing work is considered a male occupation, there are many stereotypes that downplay women’s competence in computing, and educational policies limit the offering and importance of computer science classes in schools.
On the positive side, there are many efforts underway to get the number of women in computer science trending upward again, including programs that allow female high school students to shadow women in college computer science programs, as well as colleges making a concerted effort to get middle school and high school girls interested in math and science. Even the toy industry is marketing computer science and engineering playthings to girls. These efforts give hope that a show such as “Halt and Catch Fire,” retro as it may be, could resemble the future for women in computer science.
NCWIT’s website offers many resources to help engage young girls in computing, including the following: