The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) is a non-profit community of more than 575 universities, companies, non-profits, and government organizations nationwide working to increase women's participation in computing and technology. NCWIT equips change leaders with resources for taking action in recruiting, retaining, and advancing women from K-12 and higher education through industry and entrepreneurial careers.
We talked to Adriane Bradberry, Communications Director for NCWIT, to find out more.
There's a shortage of women in STEM careers; what is your organization's unique role in addressing this issue?
"Unlike other organizations in this space, we're not a women's group. We are a non-profit that follows a B2B model, equipping change leaders from companies, non-profits, and government organizations with resources for taking action in recruiting, retaining, and advancing women in technology."
What have you discovered to be effective in helping connect girls and women to STEM studies and careers?
"We've identified hundreds of best practices for recruiting and retaining technical women (www.ncwit.org/resources). Additionally, the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing (www.aspirations.org) program focuses on increasing the participation of middle school girls, as well as high school and college women. Two components of the Aspirations program are NCWIT Aspire IT - an initiative that enlists technical high school or college women in designing and leading computing programs for middle school girls - and the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing - an award that honors young women at the high school level for their computing-related achievements and interests."
How does your approach change when focusing on youth versus adults?
"The root of our approaches is the same - increasing awareness about ways to participate in computing and the benefits of a computing career, as well as the importance of allies, advocates, and mentors when it comes to retention."
What milestones have you already reached or are you currently moving towards?
"We have a sunset clause of 20 years; we're designed to go out of business because the issue of under-representation of women and minorities in technology will become history. We've seen progress through our member organizations' work and through various programs like Aspirations in Computing:
- The majority of college-aged Aspirations Award winners who responded to our survey (83 percent) are majoring or minoring in STEM, and 57 percent are majoring or minoring in computer science or computer engineering.
- Sixty-two percent of NCWIT's Academic Alliance (www.ncwit.org/aa) members experienced an increase in female undergraduate enrollment from the year they joined, to the 2011-2012 school year.
- More than 50 percent of NCWIT's Workforce Alliance (www.ncwit.org/wa) members are actively engaged with the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Program, providing internships to participants, volunteering at local Affiliate Award events, and more."
How can schools, professional organizations, and companies work together to empower women entering STEM?
"It's important to recognize that the lack of women in computing is an issue for all members of society to solve, not just women. Schools, professional organizations, and companies all play a role in working towards gender balance in computing. In that regard, here are a few thoughts:
- Computing is not omnipresent in middle school and high school curriculum, unlike math, biology, chemistry and physics. Therefore, many students miss out on the opportunity to understand what computer science is all about before deciding post-secondary majors or minors. NCWIT K-12 Alliance Member code.org is doing great work in state-by-state advocacy for CS in public education, and NCWIT Strategic Partner NSF acts as a widespread national catalyst in CS curriculum and teacher professional development.
- Young companies (or startups) are in a unique position to establish an inclusive culture right from the start, a time when a corporation establishes its DNA, forms its values, and takes root to grow. NCWIT's Entrepreneurial Alliance (www.ncwit.org/ea) members are committed to creating gender diversity in this space.
- Both young and mature companies can work to identify and reduce unconscious bias, a hidden barrier that prevents technical organizations from hiring and retaining top talent. NCWIT's first interactive video (produced with support from Rapt Media) introduces the concept of unconscious bias and explains why this information is vital for technical companies to understand: www.ncwit.org/biasvideo.
When each of these sectors of society pulls their own weight, we begin to see a collective impact."
Is there anything additional you'd like to add?
"Gender reform is not a women's issue; it is also about men. Why do we need to also focus on men? Men are often the leaders, power holders, and gatekeepers in the computing workplace. Also, women report that support and encouragement to pursue and persist in technical careers often comes from men. (View NCWIT's full report about male advocacy where nearly 50 men in tech companies and departments were interviewed: www.ncwit.org/maleadvocateindustry.)"
To find out more, check out our full feature piece, 15 Innovative Initiatives Bringing Women Into STEM as well as the National Center for Women & Information Technology website.