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Dear BI Career Consultants:

Dear BI Career Consultants:
What are some strategies for overcoming the gender gap in information technology?

If we are to close the gender gap in information technology we must begin to address two critical questions: Are information technologies “gendered by design?” And can the same approach to preparing students for information technology careers work for both girls and boys?

Gendered by Design?
In all aspects of our lives, our cultural histories influence our consumption, for example, our taste in food, movies, clothes and music. However, there is an assumption that when it comes to our use of information technologies our cultural histories should not influence our preferences.
This is apparent in the lack of variety that is available in educational software for diverse audiences. Given that software designers design programs based on their cultural histories,  and given the ethnicity and gender of the majority of software designers, African American women are often the least likely audience for whom software programs are designed. Repeated exposure to such software over time can lead to the perception by African American female students that they are not cognitively equipped to successfully use and/or develop such technologies.
Understanding how technologies are “gendered by design” will enable us to understand the influence of design decisions on the existence of the gender gap.

Does One Size Fit All?
While there are skills and knowledge pertinent to success in the information technology field, the question we need to explore is whether there are multiple ways to help students acquire these ways of doing and knowing. I suggest that we devote resources to finding creative ways of helping girls acquire the necessary skills and knowledge by embedding teaching and learning in contexts that are personally meaningful.
Research has shown that girls often do not see the usefulness in learning how to
program. Therefore, by designing an introductory course around real projects that are meaningful, we might be able to move one step closer in helping girls to see that developing technological skills might enable them to become the creators of their technological worlds rather than just the consumers.

Dr. Nichole Pinkard
Assistant Professor of
Education, University of
Michigan at Ann Arbor

There is a shortage of African American females in information technology, from the middle-school science and math classes to the ranks of higher education. The National Science Foundation reports that women account for an increasing percentage of the bachelor’s degree recipients in all major science and engineering fields except mathematics and computer science. Therefore, this problem must be addressed at all academic levels. Following are some strategies to consider.
Improve access to computers for children of all socio-economic backgrounds. Be proactive in recruiting female students. A department can take a number of inexpensive steps in accomplishing this goal, including: advertise the department as a female-friendly environment; ensure that prospective students meet female undergraduate and graduate students and female faculty; and make sure that departmental publications are female inclusive.
Inform students about the opportunities and rewards of a computing career. Students should be made aware of internship and co-op opportunities, permanent placement rates, the wide range of career opportunities, salary ranges, and research and graduate school opportunities.
Provide female role models and mentors for your students. A department must ensure that there are female faculty, graduate students, visiting faculty and distinguished speakers. If a department hopes to attract and retain more female students, it must first attract and retain female faculty and professional staff.
Provide a culture of equality in the university and department. This can be accomplished by the following: Make sure that female students, faculty, and staff have a safe environment in which to work; provide a zero- tolerance policy for sexual harassment; provide diversity training to staff and students; make sure that members of the community understand what gender equity means in the classroom and out; and make known to staff and students the policy for seeking informal advice and/or filing formal grievances related to gender-based issues.
Finally, make sure that your department’s strengths and weaknesses related to the recruitment and retention of female students are regularly assessed, and the successes and failures shared with others. 

Dr. Loretta A. Moore
Associate Professor and Chair
Department of Computer Science
Jackson State University
Jackson, Miss.

— Compiled by Joan Morgan

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