What Needs to Change for Tech to Become More Inclusive of Women?

NCWIT CEO and Co-Founder Lucy Sanders answers this question, and others, on Quora: www.ncwit.org/quora

The underrepresentation of women in tech is a multi-pronged problem so it requires a multi-pronged, full ecosystem solution. We know from a great deal of research that societal biases play out in society, educational contexts, and the workplace to impede girls’ and women’s participation in tech. A major reason the problem still exists is because to date, organizations for the most part tend to take piecemeal, one-shot, scattered approaches to change. Likewise, they tend to default to approaches that aim to “fix the women” (e.g., confidence building, executive presence) rather than fixing systems and environments. Instead, we need to take a systemic, strategic approach that aims to address biased systems all across the so-called “pipeline.”

This involves interrupting biases that pervade in everyday interactions (such as being more frequently interrupted in classrooms or meetings); changing media, pop culture, and other images of “who” does technology; creating more engaging and inclusive computing curriculum; broadening the advice given by parents, teachers, peers, and other influencers. It also involves addressing the myriad biases that pervade business processes such as task assignment, high potential or leadership development criteria, performance evaluation criteria, who uses flexible work practices and how this usage is perceived – to name just a few.

These processes often make it difficult for women to feel as though they belong, to thrive, and to access the core, creative roles that develop the technology of the future. While there are some similar experiences, these biases and processes also play out for different women differently, so it’s always important to pay attention to which women are being marginalized and how. It’s important to pay attention to how variations in terms of race, class, sexual orientation, ability, among other dimensions, shape women’s experiences in tech. Helping managers and leaders identify the biases in these processes and implement steps to mitigate these are all important for creating inclusive tech cultures.

At NCWIT, we have developed strategic change models for K12, academia, and industry. These models help change leaders identify the key areas they need to pay attention to, set goals and priorities in these areas, implement research-based actions to achieve these goals, and to describe and evaluate progress. Sample areas are top leadership support, managerial and educator training, recruitment/selection practices, performance evaluation practices, pedagogy and curriculum, student support, among others. You can find out more about the K12 change model in “Girls in IT: The Facts” available at www.ncwit.org/thefactsgirls, the academic change model available at www.ncwit.org/recruit-and-retain-strategically, and the industry change model available in “Women in Tech: The Facts” available at www.ncwit.org/thefacts.

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