News on the Radar: 2/24/21

Here is a brief round-up of information and news that crossed NCWIT's radar recently and which we think will be of interest to you. The practices or content of the news gathered (while not endorsed or vetted by NCWIT) is meant to spark new conversations and ideas surrounding the current diversity statistics and trends in the tech workforce. We encourage you to add your two cents on this month's topics in the comments below.

Did you know that International Women’s Day is a great time to talk about women and computing?

International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated in many countries around the world. It is a day designed to recognize women for their achievements without regard to national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic, or political divisions. It is an occasion for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments, and more importantly, looking ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women. 

IWD first emerged from the activities of labor movements at the turn of the twentieth century in North America and across Europe. The first National Woman’s Day was observed in the United States on February 28, 1909, in honor of the New York garment workers’ strike where women protested against their working conditions. In the years that followed, several countries throughout Europe joined the Women’s Day movement, holding rallies calling for women’s right to vote, to hold public office, and to have equal access to employment opportunities. In 1978, during International Women’s Year, the United Nations officially began celebrating IWD every March 8. 

Since those early years, the growing international women’s movement has helped make the commemoration a rallying point to build support for women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas. Increasingly, IWD is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change, and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities. 

Why IWD and computing?

Acknowledging women’s contributions to computing and striving for greater participation is an ideal project that honors the spirit of IWD. This day has historically focused on issues and efforts related to improving rights, conditions, and opportunities for women. The persistent underrepresentation of women in the rapidly growing and essential field of computing results in costly consequences. It inhibits innovation by omitting the diverse perspectives and life experiences women bring to invention and problem-solving. It also perpetuates, and even exacerbates, the social and economic disparities for women everywhere. (See the NCWIT resource Women in Tech: The Facts for detailed statistics.) Given the increasingly vital role that computing plays in today’s world, increasing women’s participation in this burgeoning field is essential both for improving conditions for women and for improving technological innovation, problem-solving, and development. IWD provides organizations a valuable and timely opportunity for addressing these important issues.

Ideas for Celebrating IWD

Anyone can initiate IWD activities. Enlisting the support of leadership, however, is vital. Events will be more successful if leaders in your organization are involved. High-level involvement can take the form of helping to promote an event, extending invitations to speakers and attendees, or making introductions on the day of an event.

Below are a few ideas to get you thinking about how your organization can use IWD celebrations to bring attention to issues facing women and girls in computing. You can find more information to support your efforts in the NCWIT resource, International Women’s Day in a Box: Raising Awareness, Igniting Change.

For K-12 Schools and Organizations:

  • Tune in to online celebrations. This year, there are more virtual IWD events than ever, being held by companies and organizations around the world. Use this search page to find one that’s a perfect fit for your students, and join by livestream. 
  • Acknowledge women’s technical accomplishments. Share stories of women who have made significant technical accomplishments in the field of computing. Check out past recipients of the NCWIT Pioneer in Tech Award for some inspiration.
  • Connect with community. Collaborate with a local tech company or educational organization to plan a day of events designed to interest girls in computing or technology careers. Virtual options might include guest speakers, site tours, and hands-on activities that students can try at school or at home. 

For Postsecondary Institutions, Departments, and Programs:

  • Create an award for inclusive practices. Think about promising practices that promote diversity at the individual, department, or work group levels. Consider establishing an award you can present annually on IWD that celebrates and encourages those whose work is helping to transform the culture of your institution.
  • Associate your campus or department’s identity with IWD. Tailor an image of your mascot, logo, slogan, etc. to IWD. Use it on posters and other swag items that you can distribute, or change up your website for the week. This can help students and colleagues connect your program with the values and goals of IWD. 
  • Educate your community about women’s impact. Conduct interviews or archival research to create your own videos and articles about women faculty and alumni of your institution who have made significant technical innovations. Share these materials with your campus community during the week of IWD and beyond. 

For Companies:

  • Communicate about your company’s current initiatives. Does your company participate in outreach to girls and young women regarding potential computing careers? Do you offer programs that aim to recruit, mentor, retain, and advance women? Use IWD as a reason to gather and publicize this information. After listing accomplishments, take a moment to identify next steps.
  • Create an award for technical achievement. Use IWD as a way to honor the technical accomplishments of women in your company. For example, consider an award that honors innovation efforts by women or by diverse work teams. Enlist the help of the CEO and other top leadership to endorse these awards by supporting the call for nominations and by participating in the award presentation. 
  • Organize “Take Your Ambition to Work Day.” Hold an event where employees are encouraged to take stock of their professional lives and talk about their ambitions with supportive peers and mentors. On IWD, give women a structured opportunity to meet with mentors and/or managers to discuss their career goals and professional plans to achieve them.
  • Launch a patenting and innovation group for women. A study sponsored by the NCWIT Workforce Alliance found that mixed-gender teams produced the most highly-cited patents. Consider establishing a women’s patenting or innovation group to help employees learn how to patent and to foster diverse innovation. Use IWD to launch and publicize this program, and invite a speaker to talk about gender and innovation. 
  • Take a global perspective. Companies with an international presence may want to focus on increasing awareness and communication about activities and existing conditions in different global offices and contexts. Communicate with your global locations to learn what they are doing on IWD to improve conditions for women in computing. Raise awareness about conditions for women in computing in a variety of countries. Highlight different barriers as well as different successes, and encourage cross-cultural collaboration where possible.

Get more celebration ideas in the NCWIT resource, International Women’s Day in a Box: Raising Awareness, Igniting Change. You’ll also find practical tips for making your event as successful and impactful as it can be, plus pre-made templates for press releases, award nomination forms, and more. 

Of course, however you choose to celebrate, be sure to share about it on social media. Leverage the official IWD 2021 hashtags, #ChooseToChallenge and #IWD2021, to gain visibility and reach for your initiatives.