Adolescent Brains and Gender, NCWIT Collegiate Award Applications are Now Open, Minority Women Mentors, Venture Capital and Diversity, Gender and the Computer Science AP Test, Female Executives in Silicon Valley

Adolescent Brains and Gender

Salon.com recently pulled an excerpt from “The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults” by Dr. Frances E. Jensen and Amy Ellis Nutt, detailing some of the research on development in adolescents and specifically the differences between males and females. Topics include emotions, organization, and language acquisition, as well as science and technology education. The writers point to stereotypes that portray males as being better at spatial learning and females as more creative, but argue, “These black-and-white stereotypes are inaccurate, and there is an ever-increasing amount of data to back that up.” They assert that while differences do exist, there are ways that the educational system can change to better equip female adolescents to pursue science: “Given the couple of years’ disparity between peak cortical volume in girls versus boys, one might predict that girls, who reach specific levels of cognitive development before boys, could benefit more from math and science courses at earlier ages.”

Another suggestion for a way to increase girls’ interest in computing comes from NCWIT’s “Girls in IT: The Facts,” which says, “Computing is often taught in the abstract, preventing students from recognizing how technology can help address relevant social problems.” This is an issue because “making relevant connections is particularly important for increasing girls’ interest in computing courses and careers.”

NCWIT Collegiate Award Applications Are Now Open

Applications for the NCWIT Collegiate Award are now open. Sponsored by Hewlett-Packard, the NCWIT Collegiate Award honors outstanding undergraduate women for their computing and technical accomplishments. Awardees will receive a $7,500 cash award and a trip  to the award ceremony at the 2015 NCWIT Summit in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Encourage your junior and senior female students to apply today! Applications close on February 15, 2015.

With so many amazing young women applying for the Collegiate Award, we'll need help reviewing their applications. If you are interested, please email malia.fredrickson@ncwit.org.

Minority Women Mentors

A recent Fast Company article written by Vivian Giang tries to answer the question of why it is difficult for minority women to find mentors. Giang interviewed a number of women, including Natalie Madeira Cofield who launched Walker’s Legacy, an organization that promotes entrepreneurs who are women of color. In the article, Cofield offers a few reasons why it’s harder to find minority women mentors, including this one:  “It’s harder for minority women to find other minority women as mentors because there aren’t enough of them in leadership positions.”

One of the conclusions reached in the article is that while having female minority mentors is a plus, positive mentoring relationships with people of different identities is also beneficial. In fact, Giang explains, “Cofield has four or five people from different backgrounds and ages that she considers her closest mentors.” According to NCWIT’s “Top 10 Ways to Be a Male Advocate for Technical Women,” women can benefit from having male mentors. Male advocates can help women “navigate ‘hidden rules’ in the organization” and make “technical women's accomplishments more visible in the organization.”

Venture Capital and Diversity

What better way to learn about the issues facing female venture capitalists than to hear from them directly? In a recent article from Upstart Business Journal, Cromwell Schubarth spoke with four women venture capital investors about diversity in Silicon Valley. Cowboy Ventures Founder Aileen Lee pointed to unconscious bias when she said, “The reality is that in a tech environment that is 90 percent to 100 percent male, it's not super-encouraging for females to be successful. It's just a lot of things that contribute to that, things that people do or things that people say that they may not realize have unintended consequences.” Another interesting quote, this time about the benefits of diversity, came from Aspect Ventures Co-founder Jennifer Fonstad. She said, “When you have different thought processes and different experiences around the table, more options and more solutions are considered. That leads to better decision-making.”

NCWIT has resources that reflect both of these perspectives. For more information about unconscious bias, check out our interactive video, “Unconscious Bias and Why it Matters for Women in Tech.” For details on the business benefits of diversity, read “What is the Impact of Gender Diversity on Technology Business Performance.”

Gender and the AP CS Test

2014 marked the 30th anniversary of the AP CS exam, but there is still much progress to be made when it comes to women and minorities taking the test. According to a recent Education Week article, “Females remained underrepresented in 2014, comprising just 20 percent of total AP CS test-takers, up only slightly from 19 percent last year. The percentage of African-American test-takers also held steady at around 4 percent while the share of Hispanic participants increased slightly to about 9 percent from 8 percent.” The article’s author, Holly Yettick, cites an email from Katherine Levin of the College Board: “We believe low AP Computer Science A Exam participation among traditionally underrepresented minority and female students has been an encouragement and access issue, but are hopeful to see the focus is shifting.”

Lack of early exposure to computer science and few role models are two factors that limit girls’ participation in the discipline, according to NCWIT’s “Girls in IT: The Facts.” This report states, “A wealth of research in science education in general, and in computing education in particular, finds that role models are important factors influencing girls’ decisions to pursue computing. Such role models, however, are often less available for those students who do not come from affluent communities, positions of privilege, or school systems that provide better access to computing courses.”

Female Executives in Silicon Valley

In a recent Business Insider article, Maya Kosoff cited a report from law firm Fenwick & West LLP, which found that “women hold just 11 percent of executive positions at Silicon Valley companies," as compared to 16 percent in S & P 100 companies overall. The full report contains more statistics on women in leadership roles in Silicon Valley.  Kosoff notes the timeliness of this report: “In the past year, a number of tech companies — including Apple, Google, Facebook, and Yahoo — released reports about their own gender and racial diversity statistics.” Increasing female leadership is vital, given research showing that gender diversity can have a profound impact on the bottom line. NCWIT’s executive summary, “What it the Impact of Gender Diversity on Technology Business Performance,” reviews current research on this topic, laying out the business case. For information on how to increase female leadership, see NCWIT’s “Top 10 Ways to Managers Can Increase the Visibility of Technical Women.”