Exposing Women to CS, Female Engineering Grads at Harvey Mudd, Mentorship is Crucial at All Levels, Women and the Glass Cliff, Gamers Could be Tomorrow’s Coders

Importance of Exposing Women to CS

Did you know that a Google study found that “encouragement and exposure are key indicators for whether or not young women decide to pursue a Computer Science degree?” Much has been discussed about Google’s recent decision to release its diversity data. That’s not the only diversity-related news associated with the technology giant. Google conducted a study to “identify and understand the factors that influence young women’s decisions to pursue degrees in Computer Science.” One of the many findings noted in the report is that “the lack of female participation in Computer Science exacerbates a pre-existing problem with labor supply shortages: the overall need for Computer Science professionals has severely outstripped the number of graduates entering the workforce.”

More Female Engineering Grads at Harvey Mudd

Did you know that for the first time in history, Harvey Mudd College handed out more engineering degrees to females than males? According to a press release from the College, “President Maria Klawe pointed out that the Class of 2014 was the first to go through the new Core Curriculum, the first to enter with more female students than male, and the first to graduate with more female than male engineering majors.” She was quoted as saying, “As a landmark class, you are a tangible representation of the achievements resulting from the hard work by our faculty, staff, trustees, alumni and parents, to continually improve the learning environment and outcomes for our students,” said Klawe. “We are very proud of you and of how far Harvey Mudd has come over the last 56 years.”

Among NCWIT’s many resources is this case study that focuses on the successful pre- and early-computing major redesign carried out at Harvey Mudd College.

Mentorship is Crucial at All Levels

Did you know that “students who have mentors “thrive” in nearly all STEM settings?” A panel during April’s U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference called “Leading by Example: The Crucial Role of Mentors” included Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron, the CEO for YWCA USA. In a U.S. News and World Report article covering the panel, Dr. Richardson-Heron is quoted as saying, “many of the children we see don’t have parents who are role models. They don’t have people in the community who are role models. They want to do well, but they don’t have those people who say, ‘You can do it.’”

Among the tips in NCWIT’s Top 10 Ways to Engage Underrepresented Students in Computing is one connected to mentorship: “Student groups, clubs, or other formal get-togethers can help underrepresented students feel less isolated than they otherwise might and increase their sense of belonging. Research has shown that peer and near-peer mentoring can double the retention rate of female students in male-dominated courses.”

Women and the “Glass Cliff”

We’ve all heard of the glass ceiling, but did you know that there is also a “glass cliff”? The term refers to the tendency to promote women into more “risky” leadership positions or to appoint them to lead companies that are near failure. British researchers Michelle K. Ryan and S. Alexander Haslam coined the term in their 2005 study “The Glass Cliff: Evidence that Women are Over-Represented in Precarious Leadership Positions.” Their study of FTSE 100 companies found that "women are particularly likely to be placed in positions of leadership in circumstances of general financial downturn and downturn in company performance.” They illustrate how this tendency can effectively position female leaders on a “glass cliff,” because their leadership appointments are made in problematic organizational circumstances and hence are more precarious."

These kinds of patterns can also occur at lower levels when managers more frequently, but unconsciously, assign women to riskier projects or promote them before they are ready. Avoiding the “glass cliff” phenomenon is another reason it is important for top leadership and managers to actively identify and carefully develop female leaders ensuring that they have the support and resources to succeed when they are promoted. Companies also can help by analyzing their hiring, promotion, and task assignment practices for unconscious biases that underlie the kinds of decisions that ultimately create glass cliffs.

NCWIT’s first interactive video resource, “Unconscious Bias and Why It Matters For Women and Tech,” provides an initial look into some of the hidden biases that often prevent technical organizations from hiring and retaining top talent. This video will take you through a series of engaging, interactive experiments that introduce the concept of unconscious bias and explain why this information is vital for technical companies to understand. Also check out our Supervising in a Box series for tools managers and leaders can use to analyze hiring, promotion and task assignment for these hidden biases, ultimately reducing the “glass cliff” tendency.

Today’s Gamers Could be Tomorrow’s Coders

Could gaming be the ticket to getting more girls into coding? Did you know that Minecraft’s “creative” mode, in which you build worlds using Java, is popular among middle school girls? In an op-ed in the New York Times published on May 31st, Nitasha Tiku argues, “what if, instead of trying to guess at what might get girls interested in technology, we looked at what’s already on their screens?”

Coding camps and classes for middle and high schoolers are becoming more popular, and the same tactics being employed to increase diversity in startups and corporations can be used in schools as well. One such strategy, according to Tiku, is making sure there are female role models for the girls to look up to. “Girls know the stereotype of a geeky guy hacker in his basement all too well, and interacting with women who use computer science in their professional lives gives them an idea of something to go after besides an endless string of code.”

NCWIT’s resource, Top 10 Ways to Increase Girls’ Participation in Computing Competitions, offers related advice on ways to make coding more interesting and welcoming to girls.