Promising Practices

How Can You Re-Engineer Your Undergraduate Program to Increase Women's Representation in Computing? Small Steps Toward Systemic Change (Case Study 1)

The socio-educational system a student experiences shapes participation in the major. Altering one element of that system is often not enough to create enduring change. When faculty members are ready to implement organizational innovation, success is more likely if they receive support from institutional leaders, have access to adequate resources, and are able to participate in decision-making about the change.

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Whether or not an organization will fully benefit from diversity depends on how its members answer the questions, “What do we do with this diversity? Why do we want a diversified workforce?” Organizations must explicitly address these questions if they are to prevent diversity efforts from backfiring and if they are to reap the oft-touted benefits of better performance and productivity. Three organizational diversity paradigms are presented along with the assumptions and practices, pros, and cons of each.

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Targeted recruiting means planning strategically: set quantifiable goals; identify large, capable audiences; personalize the content of your message; deliver that message in media that are relevant to your audience; and pay attention to people who influence your audience’s decision-making.

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Educational software can increase students’ motivation, interest, and academic achievement in science and math. To do so, it must be selected and utilized properly to avoid gender bias. A sample tool for guiding software selection is provided.

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Positive leader-member relationships are characterized by exchanges of trust, respect, and low formality. They measurably improve performance, job satisfaction, and commitment.

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By removing time and location constraints, e-mentoring allows women to connect with many more women than face-to-face mentoring permits. It can also promote more open mentor-protégé communication by limiting status differences.

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The décor of physical spaces conveys messages about the kinds of people who belong there and the kinds of activities that should be done there. Understanding this influence allows us to actively craft an environment that makes a broad range of people feel welcome in computing.

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Sexism has measurably harmful effects, but sexist behavior can be minimized. Instructors and supervisors can practice zero tolerance and facilitate positive peer interactions, and they can provide highly visible leadership, policies, and procedures that go beyond legalities to explicitly denounce sexism.

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Culturally Responsive Computing (CRC) programs help educators connect computing curriculum to the interests, prior experiences, and needs of students diverse in race, class, ability, and sexual orientation. One such promising program is COMPUGIRLS.

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Women and minority students are not in computing courses under the same conditions as their white male classmates. Instructional practices offer opportunities to level the playing field and improve the retention of underrepresented students.

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Students most likely to complete their graduate studies are those who are viewed as junior colleagues in a positive relationship with their advisors and who are well integrated into their department’s or lab’s intellectual community.

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Collaborative learning can improve retention rates, critical thinking, appreciation of diversity, and development of social and professional skills. When implementing collaborative learning, match students roughly according to experience levels and make sure to give students opportunities to work together for both graded and un-graded assignments.

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In addition to demonstrating expertise and experience, intentional role models display their strengths and weaknesses and help observers see how they could attain a similar position. Role modeling is less interactive than mentoring, but is often a component of mentoring relationships.

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Paired mentors and protégés exchange advice for career advancement and reduced turnover. Formal mentoring programs may include organized activities that provide a framework for the mentor-protégé relationship and can lead to more rapid career advancement and higher career satisfaction for participants than non-participants.

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Faculty mentoring programs help junior faculty to acclimate and promote relationships that can cover a broad range of topics. These programs enhance career commitment and self-confidence in women. Successful programs initiate mentor pairings early for new faculty and formally facilitate the relationship until the mentor-protégé bond is established.

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Engage students not already drawn to computing by creating academic and social environments where these students feel like they belong. Students respond positively to solving real-life problems that draw on their existing knowledge and interests and that involve collaboration in hands-on projects.

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Stereotype threat harms both performance and motivation by reducing our feelings of competence, belonging, and trust in our colleagues. However, careful thought, education, and regular assessment of diversity practices can help minimize incidents of stereotype threat.

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When admission committee members minimize the biasing effects of stereotypes and consider applicants’ membership in an under-represented group as a positive characteristic, they promote diversity.

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Undergraduates with positive research experiences feel more confident and motivated to enter graduate programs. To facilitate successful REUs, supportive faculty advisors or graduate mentors should clearly communicate goals to students and allow them to spend a large amount of time on research, increasing independence as the project progresses.

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Research shows that even individuals committed to equality harbor unconscious biases that impact everyday decisions and interactions. In the IT workplace, unconscious gender bias can mislead employers, both male and female, to make inaccurate judgments in hiring, performance reviews, and promotion.

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