News on the Radar: 8/30/17

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.

Gender Difference Explanations for Disparities in Tech Are Not Supported by Science: For a Field That Claims to Be "Data-Driven," It's Time to Stop the So-Called "Debate"

Recent headlines have made it clear that, despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary, fallacies about innate gender differences persistently circulate in the public conversation. Media or other coverage implying that these ideas are matters of legitimate debate confuses the public and hinders progress.

In times like these, we at NCWIT believe it is especially important to separate the research-based wheat from the misguided chaff. For those who want the short story, here it is: While some small gender differences have been found in specific and limited contexts, qualified experts familiar with the vast amount of research on gender, overwhelmingly agree that these differences in no way account for the patterns of job segregation and inequality that we see today. Period. End of story.

For those who would like to dig deeper into the specifics, we have assembled some of our favorite, well-written and thought-provoking responses to recent headlines in this blog.

New Dean Sets Goal of 50 percent Female Undergraduate Population in Five Years for CU Boulder's College of Engineering

A recent Boulder Daily Camera article discussed the University of Colorado Boulder College of Engineering and Applied Science’s announcement of setting a five-year goal to achieve an undergraduate student population that is 50 percent women, something no other school of its kind has ever attained.

New Dean Bobby Braun; who previously worked for NASA, the Obama administration and the Georgia Institute of Technology; admits that it’s an ambitious goal, given that last year approximately 26 percent of the undergraduate engineering students were women.

“We're obviously not there yet, but we're taking big steps forward. We're not just doing one thing to address it, but a whole series of activities like the I Look Like an Engineer campaign — showcasing that all kinds of people go into engineering and that we're an inclusive community of professionals.”

The gender equality target is part of a broader mission by the school to accelerate research impact, embrace a public education mission, increase global engagement and enrich professional environment, with the goal of becoming a Top 10 public engineering institution.

“If our goal is to be the first public engineering educational organization for gender equity and we reach for that goal and come in second, is it really such a bad thing?”

Girl Scouts Introduce STEM Badges

As reported by NBC News, this summer, the Girl Scouts of the USA introduced 23 new badges related to science, technology, mathematics, and nature activities -- the largest addition of new badges in a decade -- in response to popular demand for activities related to interests such as mechanical engineering and computer programming.

Among the new badges are those that introduce kindergarten students and first graders to the world of robots and engineering. Scouts can learn basic programming and build prototypes to solve day-to-day problems. Older scouts will have the chance to enhance those skills, learning more about artificial intelligence, algorithms and how to formally present their work.

Girl Scout CEO Sylvia Acevedo, who was one of the first Hispanic students to earn a graduate engineering degree from Stanford University, was a scout herself: “Because I got my science badge, I developed that courage and that confidence to study science and math at a time when girls like me weren't studying science and math. Girls like me, statistically, weren't even finishing high school."

The new badges, some of which were requested by scouts themselves in a survey, became available in July. Next year, another initiative will allow Girl Scouts to earn "Cybersecurity" badges.

As for computing overall, Acevedo said, a lot of girls remain vulnerable to a crisis of confidence in pursuing education and careers in those fields.

“A lot of girls haven't made that shift from using technology to, ‘You can actually be a programmer,’” she said. “That you're the one who can make that coding. For a lot of girls, they need to have that hands-on experience so they feel confident.”