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NCWIT brings more women and girls into the computing fold

Only 26% of professional computing occupations in the U.S. were held by women in 2014, and a Boulder-based nonprofit is making strides to push that number much higher.

The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) promotes gender diversity at every echelon of tech and tech development. It is essentially a conglomeration of major corporations, start-ups, universities, nonprofits, and K-12 institutions that have banded together to boost the number and meaningful participation of women and girls in computer science and technology.

Take for instance Techstars, an active NCWIT member. Techstars is a Boulder-based accelerator that has launched more than 600 technology companies since 2006. The company recently pledged to double female participation in its program over four years, and double participation by underrepresented minorities. Techstars made its announcement in August at White House Demo Day, an event hosted by President Obama highlighting inclusive entrepreneurship.

“Techstars wants to improve opportunities for women and underrepresented minorities throughout our global ecosystem and open the door to entrepreneurs everywhere,” wrote Techstars Managing Partner David Brown in a post highlighting the pledge. “We are proud of our partnership with NCWIT and look forward to doing great things together.”

Inspiration and big networks – these are just two tools in the NCWIT toolbox. The organization has made inroads with a wide swath of technology players, large and small, who recognize the need to improve gender diversity.

NCWIT has effectively built an array of strategic networks it calls alliances, garnering support and participation at multiple levels: NCWIT’s Academic Alliance includes nearly 400 major U.S. universities, community colleges, women’s colleges, and minority-serving institutions. Its Workforce Alliance group includes key technology companies. Its Entrepreneurial Alliance is focused on bringing women into the fold early and often.

Additionally, NCWIT’s K-12 Alliance embraces girl-serving organizations, professional educator associations, academic institutions, and businesses nationwide; and NCWIT’s Affinity Group Alliance rounds out the organization’s reach, bringing together international, national, and local affinity groups that provide support, networking, and professional development for thousands of technical women.

Through these alliances, image campaigns, awards programs and more, NCWIT’s multipronged strategy is increasing the number of women in computer science, where developments can drastically alter the way people live and work overnight.

It’s a big challenge. True: women are more likely than men to complete college and attend graduate school. True: women comprise nearly half of the country’s total workforce. But those numbers don’t hold up in the instrumental field of computer science.

“The real story is much more complicated than the blatant numbers,” says Adriane Bradberry, communications director for NCWIT. “Part of what we do is to teach companies, management and universities about the underlying factors of these low numbers including unconscious biases, institutional barriers, and embedded cultures that discourage women from taking on a greater role in the creation of technology.”

To that end, NCWIT staffs several senior research scientists who coordinate with the NCWIT Social Science Advisory Board, which includes prominent social scientists nationwide with expertise in anthropology, education, evaluation, gender studies and more. This team of social scientist uncovers these perceived barriers for women in tech and provides research for identifying and mitigating them.

“Research is our foundation to help companies strategically employ promising practices in recruiting, retaining, and advancing technical women.” Ms. Bradberry explains. “For example, we recommend companies examine job descriptions, selection criteria, and interview processes for subtle biases and we provide them with straightforward toolkits and videos to do just that.”

The gender gap in computer science has been a persistent challenge. We’re excited to see a Boulder based nonprofit generating creative solutions to close that gap nationwide. NCWIT is headquartered at CU-Boulder, within the ATLAS institute and is part of the College of Engineering and Applied Science.