Seven Ways YOU Can Help Eliminate the Barriers to Young Women’s Participation in Computing

Get off to an empowering start this back to school season!

Whether you’re a parent, an educator, or a professional, we are highlighting doable, research-backed steps that you can take to make computing education more accessible and inclusive.

View the other blogs from this three-part series: What Can Family Members Do? || What Can Educators Do?


 

Participation in K-12 computing classes and activities can help students discover an interest in computing and develop confidence in their ability to succeed in a tech career. But at many schools, young women are underrepresented in computing programs, and in 2017, only 23 percent of AP Computer Science test-takers were female (www.ncwit.org/bythenumbers). A track record of positive experiences in high school (and earlier) can prepare women students to pursue a technical degree, while a lack of prior exposure can contribute to lower retention rates for women in college computing programs. What can we do to help make K-12 computing opportunities more accessible, relevant, and inclusive for young women?

You don’t have to be a parent or a teacher to be concerned about young women’s access to the important opportunities provided by K-12 computing education. Fortunately, there are plenty of things that ANYONE can do to help dismantle the barriers to women’s meaningful participation in computing. See what inspires you, and jump in!

Talk to key influencers in girls’ lives—parents, teachers, school counselors—about the need for increasing diverse participation in computing and why girls should consider a technical career. The NCWIT resource Girls in IT: The Facts gives a thorough overview of the reasons  why increasing girls’ participation in computing at the K-12 level is important. When you’re preparing to talk to influencers, a great place to start is the bullet list on pages 2-3 of this report, which summarizes the ways we ALL benefit when more perspectives are represented in the tech workforce. Additional talking points on the importance of computing education are available at www.ncwit.org/schools.

Make the case for improving computing education to educators and to local, state, and national policymakers and curriculum decision-makers. In making this case, be sure to distinguish between computer literacy and computer science: being a skilled consumer of technology does not have the same impact as learning to actually create the technology that powers our world (www.ncwit.org/schools).

Talk with girls you know about why they should consider a computing career. Be sure to point out the ways that computing can be used in a variety of fields to solve important problems. Highlight that these jobs are well-paying and likely to be quite plentiful. This set of NCWIT Counselors for Computing (C4C) posters can help students envision how they can use computer science skills to make a difference in the world: www.ncwit.org/C4Cposters.

Talk with girls and others about unconscious biases like stereotype threat, its effects, and what can be done about it. Make girls aware of this phenomenon; recognizing it is the first step to overcoming it. Also remind girls that intelligence and technical ability are not innate but that they are like muscles that can be developed over time. A number of important interventions for reducing stereotype threat have been found to be successful. For more information on these strategies or on stereotype threat in general, see www.ncwit.org/stereotypethreat and www.reducingstereotypethreat.org.

Provide ongoing encouragement. Never underestimate the power of this simple effort. Encouragement is important for all students, but research shows that it is one of the most influential factors in girls’ decisions to pursue computing education and careers, even more important than self-assessments of ability. This is good news for intervention efforts because changing students’ self-perception of ability is challenging, but encouraging them is not hard at all!

Do not mistake prior experience for ability. It is sometimes easy to make quick assessments about people’s “inherent” talent for computing tasks when choosing activities or assigning roles. However, these are often based on the fact that some individuals have simply had more experience with computing than others. Confusing prior experience with ability will ultimately lead to inaccurate perceptions of abilities. Remember, too, that research shows that most girls typically have less early exposure to these activities than boys. This is particularly true for girls of color and girls who come from under-resourced areas. To counter these assumptions, practice giving kids feedback that encourages a growth mindset. You can find tips on how to do this here: www.ncwit.org/feedbackstudent.

Have informal conversations with girls (and others) about media and popular culture representations of technology and computing. As appropriate, strike up informal conversations with youth and others about media portrayals regarding technology and technology professionals. Even small comments when running across these representations in day to day life can “interrupt” the moment and help people question the accuracy or impact of these representations.

See Girls in IT: The Facts for complete documentation of the research cited here, plus more ways to get involved!