News On the Radar: 8/31/16

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.

Revealing the Research on the "Pipeline" Argument

In the Harvard Business Review, Renewed (or continuing) debates about the validity of the so-called “pipeline argument” — that is, the tendency to attribute a lack of diversity in tech primarily to the educational pipeline — presents an opportunity to recap what some of the research says and to offer a few “talking points” in responding to this common argument.

While we need to tackle this issue from all angles and at all ages, 56% of women who are exiting tech careers are leaving for reasons related to workplace conditions and experiences (NOT family concerns). Because companies have more control over their culture than they do the pipeline, it makes good sense for them to also focus significant energy on creating a more inclusive culture.

NCWIT’s Women in Tech: The Facts as well as 10 Actionable Ways to Actually Increase Diversity in Tech lays out recommendations and strategies to help guide companies’ efforts in creating more inclusive and productive technical workplaces. The Facts can also help you respond when people make the “pipeline argument:”

  • While pipeline efforts are important, it will do little good to increase the “pipeline” if companies can not retain employees once they get there.
  • The metaphor reinforces faulty assumptions that people primarily enter the technical workforce through traditional pathways — when we know many people enter through alternative pathways. Furthermore, the pipeline often functions more like an obstacle course, where underrepresented groups encounter biases and barriers that cause them to leave the field.
  • The pipeline metaphor encourages us to think in terms of a “one-way” flow, but in reality, the so-called “pipeline” flows both ways. Perceptions about conditions in the technical workforce trickle down to students, causing them to question whether these are careers that they want to pursue.

See chapter 5, page 51 for more talking points that can help people distinguish research-based from non-research-based approaches to increasing diverse participation in tech.

Three Colleges Are Combatting Computer Science Stereotypes

A recent article on Forbes described the media’s ‘geeky’ portrayal of technical workers as a major deterrent to a woman’s decision to study computing.

“The images in media sort of celebrate the young geeky male,” says Maria Klawe, the well-respected president of Harvey Mudd College and a computer scientist by training. “There is typically a small number almost always of male students who have been programming at a very early age. Everyone, the parents, students then think of computer as a boy thing, [but] girls use computers and iPads and smartphones as much as boys do.”

Girls (and often boys) still have limited knowledge or inaccurate perceptions about who works in computing careers and what they involve. Recognizing and discussing typical media portrayals of men and women in tech can help question their representations. NCWIT’s Girls in IT: The Facts (full report) highlights multiple ways parents, policymakers, and educators alike can make computing careers more appealing.

As mentioned in the same article, three NCWIT Academic Alliance Members -- Dartmouth College, Boston University, and Harvey Mudd College -- are combatting stereotypes and attracting more women to study computing by emphasizing hands-on experiences, hiring female teaching assistants, running mentoring programs, and more. “I think what’s being understood is that computer science can be just as attractive to women as men,” said Mark Crovella, the chair of Boston University’s computer science department. Find out these institutions’ results on Forbes.

Unconscious Bias Can Hamper One's Success

A recent article on Mercury News uses the historic moment of Hillary Clinton’s presidential nomination as an example of societal bias of women in leadership roles. “One of the things that's going on is a clear pattern of the likability penalty,” said Caroline Simard, director of research at Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research. “Women who exhibit the same kind of leadership behavior as men do... we don't like that in women. It goes against our stereotype of how they're supposed to behave.”

Unconscious biases can affect the success of certain individuals, causing them roadblocks and challenges. In Lean In to the Evidence: Breaking the Glass Slipper of Technical Professions, NCWIT Summit Speaker Karen Ashcraft discusses the preconceived notions of success and explores how images made for specific bodies, such as the glass slipper, are sustained as the measure of who fits that occupation.