News On the Radar: 6/28/17

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.

Mentors Can Help to Keep Students on Computing Pathways

A recent Christian Science Monitor article discussed a two-year pilot program at UMASS Amherst, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which found that 100 percent of women engineering students with female mentors stuck with their programs, a surprisingly positive result in a field with a traditionally high attrition rate.

Stephanie Mula, now an industrial engineer at Raytheon Missile Systems, credits her success in part to the academic and professional advice of her upperclassmen mentor, a participant in the pilot program. Mula went on to become an academic mentor herself.

Though the study revealed benefits for same-gender peer mentoring over male mentors, mentorship in general is important, and timing matters. Professor Nilanjana Dasgupta, the study’s author, notes the importance of intervention at transition stages, such as from high school to college. At later stages when identity is more established, or in fields with equal representation, she predicts same-gender mentoring plays a lesser role.

Mula agrees that mentorship is essential for career growth, regardless of the mentor's identity: "It’s really easy to get siloed in your own experiences, and seeking out people who have different roles could open up new opportunities or paint a picture in different ways."

NCWIT offers several resources on mentoring in academia, including the following:


How to Keep Women from Leaving the Workplace

A recent Ensono blog post by Jodi Goglin draws from the NCWIT "Women in Tech: The Facts" report, highlighting how despite the continuing increase in high-paying computing jobs, the industry is failing to attract and keep diverse talent. Although women hold 57 percent of all professional occupations, they only hold 25 percent of the jobs in computing roles, and half of them leave the profession within 13 years.

A great deal of research, summarized in "The Facts," has found that most women who had left tech jobs identified the nature of their workplace as a central factor in their decision to leave. They describe poor prospects for development and advancement, inadequate support, exclusion from innovative roles, unequal pay, and a lack of flexibility to help them (and their male co-workers) balance work and personal responsibilities.

To address this gap, Goglin draws on research recommending that companies take an honest look at potential bias in their workplace, and then set goals and strategies like the following:

  • Build programs to train and grow female associates that leverage their technical and innovative skill sets.
  • Assess the projects women are being assigned to, and ensure that women are given a seat at the table in contributing to strategic development of key products and business goals.
  • Appreciate contributions, and make a point to highlight accomplishments of women as much as men.
  • Post job openings with gender-neutral descriptions.
  • Evaluate performance on an equal and objective basis.
  • Provide constructive feedback and clear, yet challenging, goals to maximize associate development.

Other NCWIT resources in this area include the following:


How Legislators and Educators Can Help to Bridge the Computer Science Education Gap

Earlier this year, The Journal featured an article about a report released by the Southern Regional Education Board, a non-profit organization comprising state legislators, educators, and policymakers, which details actions states can take to bridge the computer science education gap and prepare young people — especially girls and minority and low-income students — for a future in computers and information technology.

As presented in NCWIT By the Numbers, 1.1 million computing-related jobs are expected by 2024, and only 45 percent of these jobs could be filled by U.S. computing bachelor’s degree recipients by 2024. As such, the report notes that states need to strive to greatly expand and diversify their college-degree-holding computing workforce.

The report’s recommendations are similar to those made by the NCWIT Girls in IT: The Facts report, which suggests that legislators and educational policymakers focus on:

  • Making the case for improving computing education and ensuring that it’s an important component of educational policies. In doing so, distinguish between computer literacy and computer science, ensuring that policies encourage practices that involve youth in creating and not just using technology.
  • Adopting computer science teacher certification standards and computer science curriculum standards, distinguishing between computer literacy and computer science.
  • Allowing computer science courses to count for math/science graduation requirements and moving computer science out of elective-only territories in education. This would help establish computing courses as core curriculum courses and make it easier and more valuable for students to enroll in these courses.

In addition to the Girls in IT report, NCWIT also offers an interactive map that provides local, state, and national data on the number of computing graduates versus the number of computing jobs. These data also are presented by congressional district, specifically for state and national legislators.