What do technical innovation and diversity have to do with one another? Very little, apparently, if you follow the press coverage of our nation's current competitiveness debate. Innovation legislation drafted in the U.S. Congress seems to consider the issue of diversity and innovation a relative non-issue.
But if you listen to the country's leading information technologists, you'll hear something remarkably different, pragmatic, and refreshing.
I always wake up early when we are close to our NCWIT semi-annual meetings -- so much going through my mind. What will the conference program look like? How will our conference guests get through security at the National Academies? Is there going to be enough food? Does the keynote speaker know the right address for the building? How does one refer, properly, to a member of Congress? And on and on.
The Secretary of Education recently announced an initiative on Girls in Math and Science. My first reaction: "Hooray!" My second reaction: "Too bad there's still a need for this."
As we all know, there is.
Though, while women are still significantly under-represented in the technical workforce, the story is quite different in elementary school. In 4th grade fully two-thirds of girls (the same fraction as boys) say they "like" science. What happens to all those girls? The answer, of course, is complicated, but we start to lose them in about 5th grade.
On Friday, Microsoft announced that it had donated $1 million to the National Center for Women & Information Technology. I was at Seattle University at the Future Potential in IT seminar where this was announced and got to say a few words on behalf of NCWIT to the 500 people(mostly students - about 25% women) that were there.
The number of women who are starting IT companies, taking out patents in the IT field, or transferring ideas for development is very small. Exact numbers are not easy to come by, but there is a belief that perhaps fewer than 10 percent of IT entrepreneurs are women. What are the causes of this low representation of women and what can be done about it?
Our approach at Georgia Tech's College of Computing focuses on the needs that Dr. William Aspray emphasized in his blog here, based on the recent ACM Globalization report: the need to prepare undergraduates to have "flexible knowledge," and for curricula to take "an interdisciplinary approach."