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Recruiting Women TechnoBlog - Part 3
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Gender Diversity in STEM. Why Bother?

How does gender diversity benefit STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math)?

A key goal in STEM education is “broadening opportunities and enabling the participation of all citizens–women and men, underrepresented minorities, and persons with disabilities,” according to the National Science Foundation. Similarly, President Obama’s recently launched “Educate to Innovate” campaign cites, “expand STEM education and career opportunities for underrepresented groups, including women and girls” as one of its three goals.

Why is gender diversity in STEM important? First, why do YOU think it’s important?, see our quick poll below with a $600 raffle prize (registration for a WomenTech Training).  I’d love your opinion.

Here’s why Donna Milgram thinks gender diversity in STEM is important.

The absence of women from STEM education and careers affects more than the women; it is a missed opportunity for those fields. Women bring a different perspective that shapes and influences STEM disciplines. Research shows that women — as a group — have a greater interest than males in how technology will be applied, in particular to help others, and women naturally have a greater understanding of what is important to and appeals to women.

Here are just two examples of how women in STEM enhance the field from a substantive perspective.

  • Dr. Bernadine Healy, the first woman to direct the National Institutes of Health (NIH), established a policy whereby the NIH would only fund clinical trials that included both men and women when the condition being studied affected both genders. Prior to this requirement, many NIH clinical trials did not include women, and subsequently research recommendations did not take into account the differing biology of women and men, and in some cases made recommendations harmful to women.
  • The Zimmer® Gender Solutions™ Knee, which was originally conceived of by a woman engineer. Nearly two-thirds of knee replacements in the U.S. are done on women; however, until the Gender Knee was developed the model for a knee implant was a male knee, which often did not fit the shape and size of women’s anatomy. The Gender Knee is specifically designed to fit the average woman and is a much more successful implant as a result.

Having more women in the picture will not only help women themselves — it will also help society benefit from their expertise — whether it’s ensuring women are included in clinical trials or developing a prosthetic knee that works better for women. We are all enriched when women fully contribute to the advancement of science and technology.


Take our One Question Poll – Why Women in STEM is Important?.

CalWomenTech Secrets to Recruiting & Retaining Women in STEM

Team members from CCSF and EVC CalWomenTech Sites receive WomenTech Hall of Fame Awards
Team members from CCSF and EVC CalWomenTech Sites receive WomenTech Hall of Fame Awards

This October, IWITTS held the third Project Partner Meeting of our NSF-funded CalWomenTech Project and two of the community colleges present were inducted into our WomenTech Hall of Fame!

Read on to find out how they achieved success …

Secrets to Recruitment Success — Computer Networking Program
The Computer Networking and Information Technology (CNIT) Program at City College of San Francisco went from a female enrollment baseline of 10.3% in 2007 to 36.1% in spring 2010.

Key strategies included:

  • Obtaining the buy-in of all CNIT instructors, counselors and career staff.
  • Putting up recruitment posters and tear-off flyers with female role models all over campus. A survey of enrolled female students showed these were the top two ways they learned about the program.
  • CCSF has a very large counseling staff with over 100 counselors. The Project key leaders made a presentation to all of the counselors at their monthly meeting, providing them with recruitment brochures and posters so they could assist with recruitment efforts. In fact, distribution of recruitment materials by counselors was written into CCSF’s annual strategic plan to ensure it has become a regular practice.
  • Learn more about CCSF in this case study.

Re-create CCSF’s success at your school with Ready-to-Use Recruitment Tools:

  • Our Outreach Kit based on the CalWomenTech Project, includes easy-to-customize recruitment materials.
  • Our Poster Sets feature female role-models working in seven different engineering or trades occupations.

Secrets to Retention Success – Automotive Technology Program
Evergreen Valley College of San Jose had a baseline retention rate for female students of 57.6% in 2008 that went to 100% for two nonconsecutive semesters. In the aggregate, the average female completion rate went to 88.3%, an increase of 30.7%. Male completion baseline was 61% – also low – and now the aggregate is 86.4%, an increase of 25.6%.

Key strategies included:

  • A change in culture from it’s okay if some students are “weeded out” to a more supportive environment where instructors focus their efforts on every student’s success.
  • Bringing female role models into the classroom to make presentations.
  • Teaching to female learning style as well as male.
  • Rewarding successful female completers with a “CalWomenTech Tool Scholarship” — an engraved professional wrench with a lifetime guarantee.
  • Visible support of female auto tech students in the classroom, where female and male students can view women in auto technology banners and posters in the classroom.
  • Learn more about EVC in this case study.

Here’s how you can achieve Evergreen’s success, too:

  • Attend our upcoming WomenTech training for educators in San Francisco to learn more about female learning style – sign up now for early-bird savings!

Need a Research-Based Blueprint for Recruiting Women?

This week I came across a well-organized and user-friendly resource that includes articles on women and gender and technology education — research that can help guide your efforts to recruit and retain women in your technology classrooms.

ATE Central is a freely available online portal and collection of materials and services that highlight the work of the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) projects and centers. These National Science Foundation-funded initiatives work with educators from two-year colleges to develop and implement ideas for improving the skills of technicians and the educators who teach them.

I included below a few studies that were new to me and might interest you, as well.

For more resources on recruiting and retaining women in technology classes, check out IWITTS Proven Practices Collection, which includes over 100 journal articles and proven practice case studies. Learn below how with our website redesign we’ve made this collection even easier for you to use.

Resources from ATE Central

Gender Differences in the Values of Minority High School Students that Affect Engineering Discipline Choice & Recommendations for Attracting Minorities to Environmental Engineering: Nine gender separated groups each attended the hour and a half session about environmental engineering and wastewater treatment. This paper details gender differences in the questions raised by students during the introduction to wastewater treatment session and suggests different ways to interest girls and boys in engineering.

Preparing Women and Minorities for the IT Workforce: The Role of Nontraditional Educational Pathways: This study examines the role of nontraditional educational pathways in preparing women and underrepresented minorities for the information technology (IT) workforce. It was sparked by the finding that the nation’s number one producer of bachelor’s degrees in information technology and computer science (IT/CS) was not a major research university, but instead was Strayer University, a for-profit institution with many campuses in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. Not only was Strayer the top producer overall, but it also produced the largest number of women and African American graduates with baccalaureates in IT/CS.

Resources from IWITTS Proven Practices Collection

Our Proven Practices Collection provides educators a research-based blueprint for recruiting and retaining women and girls in the technology classroom. You’ll find hundreds of annotated journal articles and proven practice case studies.

The Collection is now tagged with keywords and organized by topic so you can quickly find what you need. Main topics include Recruitment and Retention, with ten retention sub-topics, including Learning Style and Spatial Reasoning.

We also added five new case studies from the CalWomenTech project which provide valuable insights into what individual programs did to work towards their goals of recruiting and retaining more women.

If you have any comments or questions about our IWITTS Proven Practices Collection, please leave your thoughts here.

New Careers for Mid-Life Women

By the time you read this, I will have turned the big “Five-O” on September 7th. 

As I mull over the new and great things I’d like to achieve in my fifties and beyond, I think about women who I look up to who just got going in their later years.  Cesária Évora, 70, one of my favorite singers, from Cape Verde, Africa, only launched her international career at age 47. Carmen Lamha, my co-Principal Investigator for the CalWomenTech Project, received her Master’s in Instructional Technology at age 49, and has talked of continuing on to get her PhD at 51.

I also think back to the 50 year-old woman — mother of five and on welfare — who attended a career development course I taught in the early 1980’s. A woman full of life, hope and courage, she decided to become a painter and became the first female to be admitted into the painter’s union apprenticeship program in Washington, DC.

For women, sometimes our greatest career accomplishments come at mid-life — after we’ve married or divorced, raised a family, or perhaps immigrated to the U.S.  And sometimes women embark on new careers only after they recognize the difficulty of making ends meet on the salary of the traditionally female jobs they’ve been working in for years.  

Older women often turn to community colleges to jumpstart their careers, so it’s important that educators send a message to these students in particular that all careers, including those in technology, are accessible to them.

For example, our Women in Construction Technology banner shows mid-life female role models.

Remember, everything that’s true about women in technology careers is multiplied three-fold for older women in the workplace: the need for help with building block skills, support, and encouragement.

In that vein, American Association of Community Colleges has developed a Plus 50 Initiative that “benchmarks and showcase the most current and innovative programs at community colleges to engage the 50+ learner”.  The website offers educators a variety of resources, including publications, webinars, practical tips, and more.

If you have any of your own resources or tips to share on mid-life women and technology careers, please feel free to post them here.  And for a humorous take on the challenges of a woman returning to the workforce after 30 years, this video is definitely worth a look.

The Power of Three Female Supreme Court Justices

I am in high spirits because on August 7, Elena Kagan was sworn in as our fourth female Supreme Court Justice – bringing the number of women currently sitting on the bench to three.

Elena Kagan, third sitting female Supreme Court Justice

Elena Kagan, third sitting female Supreme Court Justice

I was fortunate enough to meet the first female Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor in 1990, when I was doing a Congressional Fellowship on Women and Public Policy on Capitol Hill. I remembered I asked her how it was to be the only female on the Supreme Court and she told me that it was fine, though it would be nice to have another woman Justice. 

In 1994, I met the second female Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, shortly after she was sworn in.  I told her that I knew Justice O’Connor was happy to have some female company on the court. Indeed in 2007 when Justice Ginsburg was the sole female, she told USA Today that she was “lonely” after O’Connor’s retirement. 

Why is three women sitting on the Supreme Court Bench significant?  For one thing, according to the US Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau, “Supreme Court Justice” is no longer a non-traditional job for a woman (the threshold is 25%.) According to the sociological literature on “tokenism”, 25% is the tipping point for when a minority no longer is a minority.  And according to a study by Catalyst, three is the magic number in which women can effect change on corporate boards.

As much as I love women pioneers, it makes me even happier when it becomes “normal” to have many women in a career field.  Feeling “normal” encourages women to speak up, bring their unique perspectives into the workplace, and make a difference — regardless of whether that field is law, technology or the trades.  When women make up at least 25% of a field, or a board or, in this case, the Supreme Court, they are visible role models, they bring other women into the field and they serve as mentors for the next generation.

So now it is no longer unusual to have a woman Supreme Court Justice and, hopefully in my lifetime, we will even have a female Commander-in-Chief or two.  Let’s aim for at least one-third women in all fields, to make for a richer workplace and an enriched society.  To read more about my perspective on why it’s important to have women in all occupations, please feel free to read and share my new article, Why IWITTS?.

How do you like our new website iwitts.org?

Today we celebrated the launch of our new website iwitts.org. This is the culmination of 6 months of team work. Tell us what you think of our new website here in the comments section – we’d love your feedback. And if you find any bugs use the contact us form – and let Christine our office manager know. I’m very proud this was an all women effort in the spirit of IWITTS.

Computer Programming: Lessons that Appeal to Women and Girls

peanut-butter-computer-programmingHere’s a fun way to teach students the building blocks of computer programming skills.

Esther Frankel, a computer science instructor at Santa Barbara Community College who attended the WomenTech training I conducted last week, has generously allowed me to share her version of the lesson.  It’s called peanut butter and jelly and apparently there a number of web resources for this “PB&J” programming exercise.

Esther says, “Even though many resources identify this as an exercise for grades 4-8, I’ve used it very successfully at the high school and community college levels. In those situations, I personally don’t ‘follow’ the instructions; rather, I have students pair up or work in small groups and exchange their instructions.” She adds that she has also used exercises such as writing the instructions for going from one classroom to another (as this exercise introduces other programming “control structures”.)

You can find the lesson on The National Engineers Week Foundation website.

The Peanut Butter and Jelly exercise came up in the context of the WomenTech training module I led on how to appeal to female interests in the technology classroom. Of course, this exercise also appeals to many males who don’t start the class already understanding programming logic.

Another tool for engaging girls and women in computer programming is Alice — a resource that Esther has used successfully and that IWITTS has featured in past newsletters. The Alice programming language was designed to teach students programming. It is especially appealing to girls because programming is introduced as a “storytelling” paradigm.  Here is more information on Alice, as well as the site where you can download it.  Alice, which comes courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University, includes instructional materials, tutorials and textbooks.

I really appreciate how much I learn from the participants in our workshops, and how much they learn from each other. While conveying IWITTS’ program and knowledge base is a central focus of the WomenTech Training, equally important to the experience is having participants share strategies that have worked in their classrooms and schools.

Do you have any classroom lessons on computer programming with special appeal for women and girls?  Share them here!

Focus on What Works, Not What Doesn’t

donna-milgram-iwittsRecently, I became acquainted with “Appreciative Inquiry” — a positive change theory from the field of Organizational Development. In a nutshell, this theory suggests that an organization that inquires into problems will continue to discover more of the same, while an organization that strives to appreciate what is best in itself (and others) will discover more and more of what is good.

This theory affirms what my intuition has always told me — that the best way to get where you want to be is to look at how others have successfully done so.

For instance, in my desire to run IWITTS effectively, I have participated in several courses and some coaching for non-profit executive directors.  I learned best practices for running the business-side of IWITTS and I implemented them. On a personal level, when I wanted to lose weight a few years ago, I joined WeightWatchers. After learning what worked from the leader and other participants, I lost a size and changed my lifestyle.

I think most people would agree that the best way to learn something new is to focus on positive models. Why then, do many of those in the diversity community focus on what’s not working rather than what is as their primary strategy to effect change?

For example, many workshops and publications on recruiting and retaining women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) focus on the barriers women and girls face with very little information on how to overcome them — the ratio is usually 90% barriers, 10% solutions. I’ve noticed that many of those working on diversity issues seem most animated when describing the “wrongs” committed by offending parties.  This, I fear, may create a culture of victimhood among equity practitioners that does not promote change. Don’t get me wrong, it is critical to understand barriers and discover what has not worked; however, if the goal is to bring about positive results, focusing on the negative can be counter-productive.

I get much more energized when I hear about strategies that have worked — whether it’s for personal issues, such as losing weight, or for professional challenges, such as recruiting and retaining women to STEM. Sure, at WeightWatchers we talked about “food pushers” who insist on heaping food on our plate, but in the next sentence we learned how to resist them.  That’s also true of the WomenTech Training I designed.  Ninety-five percent of it focuses on positive solutions.  And for every barrier discussed, a research-based solution(s) is proposed.  Over the past 15 years, we have collected evaluations of every IWITTS training, and a recurrent theme among participants is that our workshop provides practical solutions that can be implemented right away.

All in all, I think the field of diversity needs to make a shift — to have a primary focus on the positive and what works rather than what doesn’t.  What do you think?

Women Increase from 5% to 14% in Welding and Auto Programs

One of our CalWomenTech community colleges recently received some great news: Their recruitment efforts have paid off after 2 years of participation in the Project.  The introductory auto and welding classes at Las Positas College have gone from a baseline of 5.4% women to 14.3% in spring 2010. Last year we reported to our funder, the National Science Foundation, that recruitment progress in our trades-focused CalWomenTech sites has been slower than with programs in computer-related technology (some of which have gone to half women), so this leap is a true breakthrough. 

How did they do it? Las Positas has been persistent in their proactive efforts to recruit female students, and has gotten local press to help do their recruiting for them:

Scott Miner, a welding instructor at Las Positas, also attributes some of their success to the current emphasis in his industry on recruiting women. Recently a young woman won the American Welding Society’s welding contest. Watch the YouTube video to see Carissa Love accept her award. 

 Early in the Project, Las Positas increased the retention of all their students-females went from a 74% completion rate to an average of 98% and males went from 88% to an average of 96%-and with their recent  recruitment successes they are well on their way to meeting their goals.  Congratulations Las Positas!

Have any of your trades programs been successful in recruiting and retaining women? Comment and tell us your success story. Rosie the Riveter did a great job welding during World War II; no reason she can’t do so today!

Would you like to receive the same training Las Positas College did at the beginning of the CalWomenTech Project?  I am leading a National WomenTech Train-the-Trainer Workshop on June 28th and 29th, and I’d love to provide you with the in-depth training to help your school succeed in recruiting and retaining women and girls to your trades and technology programs. I hope to see you in San Francisco at the end of June!

Design Squad Makes Engineering Fun

For some time, I’ve been talking about how to make science and technology curricula female-friendly. One important way is to focus upfront on how science and technology can be applied.

Photo by Ken Maschke

Photo: Ken Maschke

PBS’ Design Squad does just that. Overall, this television program does a good job of presenting gender-balanced, racially diverse kids participating in real life design challenges and competitions, with the winner getting a college scholarship. The show’s website offers educators guidance on using Design Squad materials in the classroom.

Joanna Trombley is Chair of the West Chester (PA) Area School District Technology and Engineering Education Department.  She used Design Squad’s dance pad activity for a sixth grade class project on electronics. According to Joanne, “These activities let you take the key electricity/electronic concepts and apply them to solve problems.” Of course, anything related to dance, in particular, will likely appeal to many girls.  This video shows the illuminating class project in action.

Do you know any engineering and technology activities of special interest to female students? Leave a comment with your suggestion and share it with others in the community!

And for more on female-friendly science and technologies, take a look at my article, “Gender Differences in Learning Style Specific to Science, Math, Engineering and Technology (SMET).