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 News and Opportunities
Rise Above the Hate-Filled Banter: Realize, Recognize, and Respond to Bias in Our Systems and Ourselves
In recent months, our country has seen a surge in violent tragedies related to long-standing systems of racial and other social biases. While our focus at NCWIT is typically on bias in the tech world, we believe that similar systematic biases found in the tech workplace also underlie these horrific events, and that the time to address these biases grows even more urgent.
Tragedies like the horrific ones that have recently happened nationwide have powerful affects on our workplaces, our classrooms, and our everyday interactions. Intersecting and overlapping systems of bias related to race, sexual orientation, gender expression, class, etc., often make groups who are already marginalized feel even more isolated and less safe, both psychologically and physically.
We below identify a few actions that all of us can take in the hopes of bolstering a constructive perspective for addressing the challenge before us all — one that rises above the hate-filled bantering often seen in the popular media and in online forums.
RESPOND by confronting bias when we see it (or hear it). It is our shared responsibility to not only recognize and understand unconscious bias, but to interrupt it in our society, our systems, and ourselves (ncwit.org/criticallistening).
Finally, we believe that it is particularly important for technology organizations to recognize that they are implicated in and affected by these recent tragedies in both positive and problematic ways. For one, new technologies (e.g., cell phones, social media) are making it much more difficult for anyone to avoid or ignore these realities, but we have also seen these same technologies facilitate polarizing blame games, rather than support productive public discourse that could lead to real change. And, as the public increasingly recognizes, the technology industry itself is significantly lacking in diversity, making these work and educational environments even more unwelcoming and isolating for members from marginalized groups when tragedies like these occur.
Perhaps more than ever, then, it is important for technology organizations to redouble their efforts to address multiple biases in their own and in other social environments. Of course, we should not expect the process of changing biased systems to be smooth or seamless. Change is often difficult and contentious, to say the least. But, we can and must do better. Each of us must be willing to REALIZE, RECOGNIZE, and RESPOND to bias. We believe this change is possible and that we cannot afford to lose this opportunity to work together to accomplish it.
News on the Radar
Revealing the Research on the “Pipeline” Argument
Renewed (or continuing) debates about the validity of the so-called “pipeline argument” — that is, the tendency to attribute a lack of diversity in tech primarily to the educational pipeline — presents an opportunity to recap what some of the research says and to offer a few “talking points” in responding to this common argument.
While we need to tackle this issue from all angles and at all ages, 56% of women who are exiting tech careers are leaving for reasons related to workplace conditions and experiences (NOT family concerns). Because companies have more control over their culture than they do the pipeline, it makes good sense for them to also focus significant energy on creating a more inclusive culture.
While pipeline efforts are important, it will do little good to increase the “pipeline” if companies can not retain employees once they get there.
The metaphor reinforces faulty assumptions that people primarily enter the technical workforce through traditional pathways — when we know many people enter through alternative pathways. Furthermore, the pipeline often functions more like an obstacle course, where underrepresented groups encounter biases and barriers that cause them to leave the field.
The pipeline metaphor encourages us to think in terms of a “one-way” flow, but in reality, the so-called “pipeline” flows both ways. Perceptions about conditions in the technical workforce trickle down to students, causing them to question whether these are careers that they want to pursue.
See chapter 5, page 51 for more talking points that can help people distinguish research-based from non-research-based approaches to increasing diverse participation in tech.
Three Colleges Are Combatting Computer Science Stereotypes
A recent article on Forbes described the media’s ‘geeky’ portrayal of technical workers as a major deterrent to a woman’s decision to study computing.
“The images in media sort of celebrate the young geeky male,” says Maria Klawe, the well-respected president of Harvey Mudd College and a computer scientist by training. “There is typically a small number almost always of male students who have been programming at a very early age. Everyone, the parents, students then think of computer as a boy thing, [but] girls use computers and iPads and smartphones as much as boys do.”
Girls (and often boys) still have limited knowledge or inaccurate perceptions about who works in computing careers and what they involve. Recognizing and discussing typical media portrayals of men and women in tech can help question their representations. NCWIT’s Girls in IT: The Facts (full report) highlights multiple ways parents, policymakers, and educators alike can make computing careers more appealing.
As mentioned in the same article, three NCWIT Academic Alliance Members — Dartmouth College, Boston University, and Harvey Mudd College — are combatting stereotypes and attracting more women to study computing by emphasizing hands-on experiences, hiring female teaching assistants, running mentoring programs, and more. “I think what’s being understood is that computer science can be just as attractive to women as men,” said Mark Crovella, the chair of Boston University’s computer science department. Find out these institutions’ results on Forbes.
Unconscious Bias Can Hamper One’s Success
A recent article on Mercury News uses the historic moment of Hillary Clinton’s presidential nomination as an example of societal bias of women in leadership roles. “One of the things that’s going on is a clear pattern of the likability penalty,” said Caroline Simard, director of research at Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research. “Women who exhibit the same kind of leadership behavior as men do… we don’t like that in women. It goes against our stereotype of how they’re supposed to behave.”