NCWIT Summit on Women and IT is being held in Portland, Oregon this week and is providing an opportunity for its members to share resources and strategize on how to inspire girls to choose computing careers and support women to stay in those careers. NCWIT (National Center for Women in Information Technology) is a coalition of over 200 corporations, academic institutions, non profits, and governmental agencies working to address some of these challenges. NCWIT supports efforts within the workforce, in universities, and in K-12 education in order to increase women's participation in IT - in the classroom, in startups, and in corporations.The
The Facts: Women in the Tech Industry
The technology industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the U.S. The U.S. Labor Department estimates that technology job opportunities are predicted to grow by about 22% over the next decade, a faster rate than all other jobs in the professional sector.
Recent studies have shown that despite the increase in the number of computing jobs, interest in computer science majors has steadily declined over the past few years. According to NCWIT, this decline is even more significant among women. In 2008, for example, women earned 57% of all bachelor's degrees, yet they only earned 18% of computer and IT bachelor's degrees - down from 37% in 1985. And in 2008, women held 57% of all professional occupations in the U.S. workforce but only 25% of all professional IT-related jobs - down from 36% in 1991.
Not only does the industry fail to attract new talent, it also loses talent already interested and involved in technology. For example, 56% of technical women leave at the mid-point of their careers, more than double the attrition rate of men. Some of these women start their own tech companies, but many leave the industry altogether.
The Future: Compugirls and Social Justice Technology
Although there are certainly steps that the tech industry can take to attract and retain women, it's important to promote computer careers to young girls long before they are set to choose college majors or careers.
Compugirls, a social justice technology program for girls age 13 to 18 in under-resourced areas of Phoenix and in tribal communities.According to Kimberly Scott, associate professor at Arizona State University, by the eighth grade girls have fewer positive perceptions of computers than boys. Scott is the executive director of
Scott notes that low-income African-American, Hispanic, and Native American students have less access to technology at home and in their schools than Caucasian families, and that women of color enter computing majors and careers at an even lower rate than white women.
Compugirls is designed to encourage girls to be creators, not just consumers of technology. Compugirls is a year-round, two-year program that uses multimedia to enhance girls' computational thinking and technology skills. Compugirls is designed not simply to advance technology, but to harness technology in service of the girls' communities. Compugirls operates at two sites: one on the ASU campus and one on the Gila River Indian Community.
Girls in the program learn tech skills, including some programming with Scratch and work in the Teen Second Life grid. According to Scott's research, those involved in the program have a higher sense of self confidence - not just in technology, but in academia and in body image.
Compugirls makes technology culturally relevant, giving the girls who participate the tools to become advocates for themselves and for their communities.
The program emphasizes mentorship and peer-to-peer collaboration. These support systems are crucial not just for encouraging girls to become interested in technology, but as NCWIT and a recent Kauffman Foundation study have shown, an important part a larger effort on how to support the women to enter the tech industry - as college majors, as tech professionals, and as entrepreneurs.