News on the Radar: 7/29/20

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 You Are Invited to Join the NCWIT-HigherEd Community of Practice?

NCWIT is hosting a new moderated group email list, NCWIT-HigherEd, to facilitate ongoing, year round conversation among Alliance members, focused on issues around broadening participation in computing in higher education. 

NCWIT-HigherEd is modelled around the idea of a “Community of  Practice” (Wegner and Wenger-Trayner, 2015), which is “a group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do, and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” For this community, it means facilitating the regular interaction of change leaders from across the nation to improve the work they are doing in their organizations, professional fields, research, and regions to broaden participation in computing in higher education settings. Together we can develop and implement impactful shared practices: experiences, stories, tools, and ways of addressing recurring problems. The group email list is the technology to support this work.

The NCWIT-HigherEd group email list is:

  • open to any employee of an NCWIT Alliance member organization
  • civil, welcoming, and encouraging of robust conversation 
  • safe, offering the option for subscribers to use personal email addresses and to request that moderators post anonymously on their behalf

NCWIT-HigherEd is moderated by member representatives of the Academic Alliance: Maureen Doyle (Northern Kentucky University), Laura Dillon (Michigan State University), and David Cooper (Cheyney University).

Ready to get involved? Visit www.ncwit.org/NCWIT-HigherEd.

Did You Know Representation, Encouragement, and More Matters for the Color of Our Future?

In February and March 2020, NCWIT hosted a three-part series of online panel discussions called “The Color of Our Future: An Online Conversation Series on the Empowerment and Inclusion of Black Women & Girls in Tech.” Timed to coincide with both Black History Month and Women’s History Month, the series celebrated Black women and girls’ contributions to the computing field while also exploring the barriers and challenges that still exist. This online conversation series is part of the broader NCWIT effort, The Color of Our Future, a thematic strategy that anchors NCWIT programs, initiatives, and research-based resources that take an intersectional approach to broadening the meaningful participation of underrepresented women and girls of color (Black, Latinx, and Native American) to positively impact the future of computing.

Below is a summary of key takeaways from Conversation #1 of the series, focused on Black girls in technology. Access the full-length video and PPT presentation from this conversation online: www.ncwit.org/the-color-of-our-future. 

As NCWIT Research Scientist JeffriAnne Wilder noted in her introduction to this conversation, “Just four percent of all high school students taking AP Computer Science in 2017 were Latinx girls, two percent were Black girls, and less than one percent were Native American / Alaskan Native girls” (Women of Color in Computing Data Brief, Kapor Center, 2018). With these statistics in mind, the first discussion in the Color of Our Future series focused on recommendations for improving access, inclusion, and outcomes for Black girls and women in computing in the K-12 space.

Panelists for this session included NCWIT Community Engagement Manager TJ Alladin; Black Girls Code Curriculum Specialist Ewurabena Ashun; TechBirmingham President Deon Gordon; University of Maryland Baltimore County Computer Science Education Faculty Member Deborah Kariuki; and Student, Activist, Advocate, and Philanthropist Taylor Richardson, AKA Astronaut Starbright. While each panelist shared from their own unique background and experiences in their comments, several common themes emerged from the conversation.

  • It’s important to assess the specific barriers and challenges that must be overcome in a given situation. As Deon Gordon was describing an after-school enrichment program for Black girls, he noted that the planning process would need to include an understanding of any factors that would make it difficult for students to participate or to continue their learning outside of the program. For example, he asked, “do we have broadband access issues that we now need to start appreciating, will there be transportation barriers… are there any gaps or hurdles just around the adoption or the use of technology?”

    The "Guide to Inclusive Computer Science Education: How educators can encourage and engage all students in computer science" (www.ncwit.org/csedguide) provides educators with context and concrete steps to build and expand inclusivity in CS education.
     
  • Offer younger kids hands-on, playful, and engaging opportunities to explore computational thinking and tech projects. Educators can use informal strategies to pique students’ curiosity about technology. “Let’s say there’s a break or a recess; you could just leave broken-down robot pieces and the instructions on the table... and see how young girls gravitate towards it,” Ewurabena Ashun explained. Later, educators can use lesson time to introduce students to the foundational elements of computational thinking so they can understand how and why a process works. Deborah Kariuki added that for K-3 kids, “We are not really teaching them programming, you know? We are trying to introduce them more to computational thinking and have it be more of a playful experience, because we don’t want to make this another job for them.” As students get older, educators can add drag-and-drop coding and other fun, creative applications.

    “Computer Science-in-a-Box: Unplug Your Curriculum” (www.ncwit.org/unplugged)  introduces fundamental building blocks of computer science—without using computers.
     
  • Be explicit about letting Black girls know about the opportunities that are available to them in computing. A report by the Girl Scouts Research Institute found that 79 percent of girls who said they were uninterested in STEM were not knowledgeable of career choices in STEM fields. Deborah Kariuki observed that many of her high school students “had no idea what was computer science or what they could do with it,” so she made a point of “showing them some of the projects that I worked on when I was at IBM and showing them what programming can do, showing them that programming is in medicine, it’s in art, it’s in music.” She also helped students to see that “when you do any of these subjects, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to sit behind a screen day in and day out... there’s a lot of interesting things you can do.” As TJ Alladin reiterated, “There are different pathways to getting different types of people interested in tech... no [single] answer is the right answer, we’re not all one being, Black girls and women like different things… All of these pathways should be out there because they are all valid pathways, because we need skills in all of these different areas.”

    "Which computing pathway is right for me?" (www.ncwit.org/pace), also available in Spanish, explains how computing interests and talents line up with different undergraduate courses of study and the careers that follow.
     
  • Representation matters. Taylor Richardson urged educators to “continue to find coaches and mentors and professionals who look like us so we can see ourselves represented in a positive way.” Ewurabena Ashun concurred that “in workshops, it’s powerful to see how we have Black women who are leaders and who are actually in the industry.” In addition to advocating for more Black women in computing fields to be represented in popular media such as television and films, the panelists noted that another way to give students access to diverse role models is to invite tech professionals into the classroom as guest speakers. “Most importantly,” Richardson added, “we need those who look like us AND those who don’t to be willing to invest in us.”

    “Modern Figures Podcast” (http://modernfigurespodcast.com/) guest stars Black women in computing who share their stories and perspectives on technical, societal, and personal topics. Geared toward women of color in STEM, especially high school and college students, the podcast also highlights the interestingly relatable, pivotal moments along their journey in computing.
     
  • Bridge the encouragement gap. The Girl Scouts Research Institute found that “Teacher support and encouragement was lower for African-American and Hispanic girls compared to Caucasian girls.” Some programs address this by working with parents so that they can better support their children in pursuing tech interests. Deon Gordon noticed that parents would often wait on site while their kids attended a workshop, “So now we’re starting to explore opportunities for multigenerational programming, opportunities to get the parents involved as well, the idea being that they’ll be able to take those experiences back into the household, and not only will they be more interested in these potential opportunities for their kid, but they’ll be able to speak to it with a bit more articulation, and they’ll be able to recognize earlier if their child has a serious interest.” In her work, Taylor Richardson strives to encourage Black girls to follow their computing passions, even when there are obstacles to overcome. “Some advice I would give to Black girls... is to just do it, and don’t let anything hold them back. Let them know that you are capable of whatever you put your mind to, remember to stay connected to the essence of who you are, take care of yourself along the way, reach out to others, and just pause and wonder and think to yourself that ‘I can do this,’ and connect to yourself, and not just for yourself, but for other Black girls, too.”

    "Bridging the Encouragement Gap in Computing" (www.ncwit.org/PracticingEncouragement) offers some key highlights from published research studies, and follow-up tips on practicing encouragement.  

Did You Know Representation, Sponsorship, and More Matters for the Color of Our Future?

In February and March 2020, NCWIT hosted a three-part series of online panel discussions called “The Color of Our Future: An Online Conversation Series on the Empowerment and Inclusion of Black Women & Girls in Tech.” Timed to coincide with both Black History Month and Women’s History Month, the series celebrated Black women and girls’ contributions to the computing field while also exploring the barriers and challenges that still exist. This online conversation series is part of the broader NCWIT effort, The Color of Our Future, a thematic strategy that anchors NCWIT programs, initiatives, and research-based resources that take an intersectional approach to broadening the meaningful participation of underrepresented women and girls of color (Black, Latinx, and Native American) to positively impact the future of computing.

Below is a summary of key takeaways from Conversation #3 of the series, focused on Black women in the technology workforce. Access the full-length video and PPT presentation from this conversation online: www.ncwit.org/the-color-of-our-future. 

In 2019, Black women made up just three percent of the computing workforce (www.ncwit.org/bythenumbers). Despite being underrepresented in the tech field, however, Black women have also made – and are continuing to make – major contributions to the evolution of computing. The third installment of The Color of Our Future had the goal of empowering and celebrating the contributions of Black women and girls in computing, while also looking at ways that tech companies can be more inclusive of Black women and other underrepresented groups.

Panelists for this conversation included Entrepreneur and Drexel University Undergraduate Computer Information Systems Blessing Adogame; Executive Coach and NCWIT Corporate Initiatives Consultant Andrea Bowens-Jones; Google Computer Science & Digital Skills Education Program and Partnerships Manager Yvonne Melton; and Technology Concepts Group International President and CEO Avis Yates Rivers. As in previous installments, it was emphasized that efforts to support and include Black women in the tech workforce must take into account the specific barriers that exist in each context.

Representation still matters. 

  • All of the panelists agreed that the lack of mainstream cultural representations of Black women professionals in tech fields hindered Black women’s full participation in computing, from elementary school all the way up through the highest levels of corporate management. From deciding to pursue a new interest in computing to persevering in the face of microaggressions, bias, and systemic obstacles, representation matters. As Andrea Bowens-Jones explained, “There are no examples on TV that show [Black girls] that they can be that, there are no examples in their families that show them that it is possible because it’s somebody I know personally that has done it, and so when you even get to the school and making the choice, not having exposure or even awareness of the opportunity that is there, that’s still, to me, a barrier for students to even enter into the field.” This effect continues into the workforce, she said: “The feeling that, when you’re the only one, it is hard to blend in… so [you’re] working twice as hard, or feeling like you have to work twice as hard” to counter colleagues’ expectations that Black women need “special treatment” to be successful.
  • On the other hand, the presence of diverse role models can be a key factor in Black women’s persistence in computing. As Blessing Adogame shares, “I was always interested in technology, I just didn’t know how I would get there… It wasn’t until I came to Drexel and I saw one Black female student who was a software engineering major, and that’s actually why I switched my major to that after computer science.” Later, she met “another Black female student who was an information systems major and she was more interested in cybersecurity, so I was able to talk to her, and from there I switched my major to Information Systems.”

Research presented in NCWIT "Women in Tech: The Facts" (www.ncwit.org/thefacts) shows that many women in the tech workforce perceive a lack of role models (40%), mentors (47%), and sponsors (84%) affected their advancement to either a “great” or “very great” extent. View the full report for promising practices for addressing key barriers to women's participation in technology.

Mentorship and sponsorship programs are needed to foster success in the tech workplace.

  • Andrea Bowens-Jones urged companies to “really organize mentoring programs,” because “a lot of times what’s lacking is real advocacy for women to be supported or advanced in the workplace.” The most effective advocates in her career journey, she said, are “not just someone that looks like me, but the kind of mentors that are in rooms that I wasn’t in so they could be advocates for me.” Avis Yates Rivers also asserted that majority-group allies are necessary for accomplishing inclusion goals, noting that more research could be done “on what makes a man become a strong ally for all women and in particular black women; and how can we identify and find those men and then continue to replicate them?”
  • Yvonne Melton pointed out that professional organizations can also be an excellent place for Black women to build networks and connect with mentors. Such organizations can support Black women and other underrepresented groups through targeted outreach and recruitment efforts. 

Use the NCWIT “Sponsorship Toolkit” (www.ncwit.org/sponsor) to help you make the case for sponsorship in your organization, to help others understand the differences between mentors and sponsors, to help you identify potential sponsors, or to help you be an effective sponsor yourself.

Educate corporate leaders about why a diverse workforce benefits everyone. 

  • Inclusion efforts must be supported by the top levels of an organization if they are to be effective. As Blessing Adogame shares, “I have entered in a lot of different companies who have claimed to have a Diversity and Inclusion [program], and once I would enter the company I would ask... where is everything happening, because I see it on an external level, but inside there’s nothing there, there is no support for me.”
  • Multiple panelists described interactions with male colleagues who felt they were being asked to give up their job in the name of diversity. As Andrea Bowens-Jones noted, part of the work that’s needed is around “getting people to understand it’s not about me giving up my seat, but me creating room for you to have a seat at the table.” Avis Yates Rivers concurred, adding that organizations are being urged “to change their culture and their processes and their thinking because it would benefit everybody, not just women... if your culture is more inclusive and it’s listening and valuing everyone’s contribution, that’s also going to value men’s contributions as well,” while ensuring that innovative ideas are not going unheard due to lack of representation.

This on-demand NCWIT webinar, “Ten Actionable Steps To Increasing Diverse Participation,” (www.ncwit.org/10ActionableWaysIncreaseDiversity) offers more research-backed strategies that both individuals and companies can take to better recruit and retain a diverse range of employees in the tech workforce.