Moving the Needle... How Fast is Fast Enough?, More Research Needed on STEM Programs' Impact, Patent Filings by Women Have Risen Fastest in Academia, I Spent Spring Break Teaching Girls to Code

Moving the Needle... How Fast is Fast Enough?

A recent International Business Times article discussed the current state of diversity in Silicon Valley a year after the first wave of tech companies released their diversity numbers and publicly committed to addressing the underrepresentation. Not surprisingly, the results thus far, indicate that the Valley remains a hard place for women, African-Americans, and Hispanics to get or retain a technical job.

While this may be disappointing for many, it is also important to set realistic expectations and to critically examine this type of media report. For example, it is virtually impossible for companies that employ tens or hundreds of thousands of employees to register percentage increases in their overall technical workforce in one year, even if they hire a significant number of underrepresented employees. Demanding that they do so can be unrealistic and can cause companies to spend time and money on efforts that “save face” rather than efforts that are truly effective. It is important to take a more nuanced view and examine more sensitive measures where change might actually show up in a year (e.g., how many underrepresented employees advanced or were hired into technical occupations THIS year as opposed to last year, or increases on measures of company climate). To assist the public in understanding these subtleties, companies would do well to go the extra mile and be transparent about their progress on some of these kinds of measures as well, rather than just reporting their overall diversity numbers. Holding companies publicly accountable and reporting the overall tech diversity numbers remains very important, but it should be viewed as more indicative of longer-range progress rather than reflective of short-term results.

That said, this article does capture the importance of moving the focus BEYOND the pipeline and some important ways companies can accelerate progress:

  1. Create A Welcoming Culture: Tech companies have spent a lot of money getting young women and minorities interested in tech, but they also need to ensure that the current work environment is more welcoming.
  2. Set Real Goals: Set specific and concrete goals for hiring and advancing underrepresented employees.
  3. Hold Managers Accountable: Without making leaders accountable for diverse hiring, there is little incentive to change.
  4. Look Outside Traditional Talent Pool: Companies can do this by expanding the number of schools they look at when recruiting beyond the Stanfords and MITs of the world and considering candidates from a broader range of schools.
  5. Focus On The Present, Not Just The Future: Much effort is focused on getting underrepresented groups into the “pipeline,” but Silicon Valley famously hires fewer tech women and minorities than are available around the country and in other industries.

NCWIT has a number of resources to help companies attract and retain underrepresented groups, as well as for announcing diversity numbers:

More Research Needed on STEM Programs' Impact

According to a new report from the National Research Council, summarized in a recent blog post on Education Week, after-school and summer education activities in STEM are growing faster than research into the quality of the programs, particularly when it comes to understanding what programs work best for which students.

According to Eric Jolly, the chairman of the NRC's Committee on Successful Out-of-School STEM Learning, the committee held public meetings across the country last year, organized a national summit, and reviewed and synthesized existing research. During this time they heard and read a lot about how individual students learn, the characteristics of high-quality after-school and summer STEM programs, and the benefits of those programs. However, they didn’t get much information on what the report describes as "learning ecosystems,“ such as the availability of community resources and structures to support STEM learning, whether families know about the activities and can help their kids at home, and whether the programs complement and connect with what students are learning in school.

A key message of the report says, "Education reform is not synonymous with school reform, it's a much larger domain. If we really want to move the needle on education reform, we have to think more broadly than the school systems and the limited time on tasks that they have to address these issues."

The report identifies some promising trends for creating lasting systems of support, funding, and quality, all of which are based on studies analyzed by the National Academy of Sciences. They include:

  • developing statewide after-school networks to share strategies for providing high-quality STEM programs and to seek out funding
  • increasing collaboration between after-school programs and local science centers
  • expanding STEM learning in existing after-school programs run by national youth organizations, such as 4-H Clubs, the Girl Scouts, and the YMCA of the USA
  • conducting research to understand what motivates some students and not others to be engaged in STEM fields in order to increase interest

NCWIT’s extensive report titled Girls in IT: The Facts includes a section detailing the importance of informal education programs such as this, noting that even half-day and one-day camps can positively influence girls’ interest in CS courses and careers.

Patent Filings by Women Have Risen Fastest in Academia

According to a new study from Indiana University, as reported on Phys.org, the number of women worldwide who have filed patents with the U.S. Patent and Trade Office over the past 40 years has risen fastest within academia compared to all other sectors of the innovation economy.

"To find out that women are patenting at higher rates in academia compared to industry, government and individuals is a surprising discovery," said Cassidy R. Sugimoto, an associate professor of informatics at the School of Informatics and Computing at IU Bloomington. "We had thought it might fall lower since patenting is still considered 'optional' in terms of promotion in academia, although it's increasingly encouraged."

Sugimoto and her collaborators found that from 1976 to 2013, the overall percentage of patents with women's names attached rose from an average of 2 to 3 percent across all areas to 10 percent in industry, 12 percent in individuals, and 18 percent in academia. They also found that patents from women frequently included contributors from a wider variety of fields, suggesting women inventors were more collaborative and multidisciplinary.

The study also revealed a number of places where patent filing among women has room to improve. For instance, neither academic nor industrial nor government patents came close to reflecting women's current representation in science, technology, engineering and math — the fields most associated with patentable discoveries. Women make up one-third of all researchers in the STEM fields. Further, the "impact score" assigned to patents with the names of women — calculated using the number of times these patents were cited in other filings — was much lower compared to patents with male names.

NCWIT offers several online resources to help improve the research experience for undergraduate students, including the following:

I Spent Spring Break Teaching Girls to Code

Detroit-area high school student Christina Li recently shared her experience teaching girls to code on her spring break in a Bright — Medium blog post. She recalls being in third grade when she built her first rudimentary website in HTML as the beginning of her “journey into computer science and its amazing possibilities.”

Since learning C++ as a high school freshman two years ago, Li has participated in the FIRST robotics world championships in St. Louis as a student programmer, attended a summer college quarter at Stanford University on a full-ride scholarship from the Joyce Ivy Foundation, and spent time at a tech incubator in San Francisco developing a web app to translate sign language to text during a hackathon. Eager to help other students feel the same rush of adrenaline when a program suddenly works that she feels, this year she founded a day camp for junior high girls in her area called Hello World.

Hello World is often the first line programmers type out in any new language, so I thought it would be fitting for the middle school girls in my district who applied, most of whom have little to no experience in the field,” she writes. “I organized and planned every single detail, from the first team-building exercise to the farewell lunch.”

With the help of in-kind and cash sponsorship from 3ViewsConsulting, cPanel Inc, Ford, Google, MCWT (Michigan Council of Women in Technology), Microsoft, and the University of Michigan’s Center for Engineering Diversity and Outreach, Li spent her Spring Break week teaching 30 students how to code, including how to complete projects in game design with Scratch, develop apps with MIT AppInventor, create robotics programs with Finches, and design websites with HTML/CSS.

“Throughout the week, the girls constantly gave me hope for the future of technology, showing everyone that girls are extraordinarily capable and intelligent to pursue STEM fields,” she noted. She concluded with an uplifting statistic from a survey she conducted after the camp: "When asked whether they may want to pursue computer science in the future, all 30 students responded with an enthusiastic ‘yes’"!

NCWIT Aspirations in Computing offers many volunteer opportunities for NCWIT Alliance Members, including the opportunity to become a Program Partner of an AspireIT program in your area. To date, NCWIT AspireIT has launched 115 programs, providing 130,992 hours of computing outreach and instruction to 3,371 K-12 girls in 23 states. Find out more at www.ncwit.org/aspireit.

NCWIT’s resources for introducing young girls to technology include How Can You Engage a Diverse Range of Girls in Computing? COMPUGIRLS: Fostering Innovation and Developing Technosocial Change Agents (Case Study 1), Top 10 Ways Families Can Encourage Girls' Interest in Computing, and Top 10 Ways to Increase Girls' Participation in Computing Competitions.