By Daron Green, Managing Director, Microsoft Research
The February 2016 winners of the NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund spoke about their projects at the Summit on Women and IT in Las Vegas, Nevada, yesterday. Winning projects receive up to US$10,000 to develop and implement initiatives for recruiting and retaining women in computing and IT.
Wherever we go—university campuses, technology companies, academic conferences, and tradeshows—the reality is clear: We have yet to solve the problem of underrepresentation of women in computing and IT. The statistics support the anecdotal evidence; the numbers confirm what we see around us. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), in 2015, only 25 percent of jobs in computing and IT were filled by women, and less than 10 percent of those by women of color. Microsoft Research, like many other members of the private and public sectors, is determined to affect those numbers.
One of the ways we hope to affect those numbers is through the NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund. Since 2007, it has provided US academic institutions with start-up money to develop and implement initiatives that recruit and retain women in the computing and technology fields of study. Over the years, NCWIT and Microsoft Research have used the fund to award 47 postsecondary NCWIT members with almost US$550,000 with which to develop and implement initiatives for recruiting and retaining women in those fields. Currently the Academic Alliance has benefited more than 1,400 distinguished representatives from academic computing programs at more than 400 colleges and universities across the country.
Adrian Bradberry, NCWIT’s Communications Director highlighted that “The Seed Fund recipients aren’t the only beneficiaries. The underrepresented individuals who are reached through this program are introduced to computing or further encouraged to persist in technology careers, and in turn, add diversity to an industry that so desperately needs varying perspectives in order to create products and services that better represent all of society.” By providing start-up funding for one university’s outreach program, we’re potentially enabling years of education, guidance, and support to thousands.
Other programs, like the Microsoft Research Women’s Fellowship (formerly the Graduate Women’s Scholarship) are one way we express our determination to affect change in this area. By assisting and encouraging women at a critical moment in their academic careers—their second year of graduate study, the point at which they’re determining their area of research—we hope to ensure their successful PhD completion as well as their post-doctorate presence at the highest levels of our field.
At the other end of the spectrum, through our DigiGirlz program we’re continuing our efforts to inspire middle- and high-school girls who might not have even considered a future in computing. And we continue to support organizations like the Anita Borg Institute, providing funding so they can keep up the momentum of inspirational, high-impact events such as the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.
There’s so much to be done. Once women enter the technology workplace, why do they leave in such dismaying numbers? And at such pivotal points in their careers? What can we do to encourage them to stay? More and more organizations—private and public sector—are understanding that this isn’t only about doing the right thing. Evidence continues to make the business case for gender (and other) diversity. The Harvard Business Review tells us that diversity drives innovation, and there’s been much written about the correlation between organizational/team success and diversity.
While change starts within each of our organization’s walls, ultimately it will not be through isolated pockets of change but through system-wide, inter-organizational change that we’ll see women represented in computing and IT in numbers that reflect our world.