TL; DR: A nonprofit community of nearly 900 universities, businesses, and organizations nationwide, the National Center for Women and Information Technology, or NCWIT, takes a three-pronged approach to increasing women’s participation in the computing industry. By connecting change leaders, providing free resources, and developing programs for reaching underrepresented groups, NCWIT inspires change at a national scale. The organization helps raise awareness and implement change by distributing research-based information on how to attract, develop, and promote women and minorities in technology.
After graduating from college, Adriane Bradberry searched for a communications job that would allow her to do a little writing, editing, and web development — “anything that helps to tell the big-picture story,” she said.
Adriane quickly became interested in the National Center for Women and Information Technology, or NCWIT, and the organization’s mission to grow women’s contributions and roles in computing.
With backgrounds in science and STEM, Adriane’s parents gave her multiple opportunities to interact with and learn about technology. Adriane took computing classes throughout her education, which she said gives her strong, relevant skills in her role as NCWIT’s Communications Director, even though it’s not a technical position.
“I was fortunate enough to have those opportunities and be introduced to computing early on,” she said. “I got lucky in being able to combine my passion for communications with my love for technology by working for an organization with a mission I think is really important.”
NCWIT’s Top-Down Approach to Promoting Diversity in Computing
Instead of concentrating professional development, NCWIT focuses on educating and motivating member organizations to recruit, retain, and advance employees from minority groups.
“We make it a point to not put the onus on women,” Adriane said. “We’re certainly advocating that there should be more women and more underrepresented groups in technology fields, but we’re going about it in a different way.”
When the organization started in 2004, efforts focused on gathering and compiling data to fully understand the workforce disparities.
“We’ve moved beyond recognizing the problem,” Adriane said. “For years, we’ve been actively working to help organizations fix that problem.”
In addition to reminding businesses and organizations about how diverse teams can improve the bottom line and increase productivity, NCWIT provides practical recommendations for leaders to use day-to-day to be more inclusive.
From adjusting the wording on job postings to working with nonprofits to create informal tech opportunities for K-12 students, Adriane said NCWIT aims to inspire its members to become leaders in advocating and implementing change.
“Just one aspect of our mission, and we have so many, is to make sure that young women have that chance to discover technology and make the connection in terms of the skills you can grow and the potential careers you can have,” Adriane said. “It’s a win-win situation for all those involved, and we want people to be proud of the work they do to help solve these societal issues.”
Free Resources Help Organizations Recruit and Retain Technical Women
From long-term business plans to a chance encounter at a local coffee shop, NCWIT provides visitors free access to around 175 free online resources, including several in Spanish.
“There are hundreds and hundreds of recommendations that can be applied across the pipeline, no matter who you are or what your goals are,” Adriane said. “We address it all.”
For example, women might be less likely to apply to job postings that use words such as ninja or rockstar to describe coders. Other resources help people identify and respond to common misunderstandings about workplace diversity.
“These resources are our best defense against a lot of things in terms of barriers, how we can work around them, and how we can knock them down,” she said. “They just really allow us to help individuals help themselves.”
NCWIT resources can be filtered by the specific goal to achieve, type of resource, and group of people to address. Information is presented in a variety of formats, from top-10 lists and workbooks to programs-in-a-box.
“Give us your problem and there’s no way we haven’t thought of a way to address it,” Adriane said. “We’re providing these custom, turnkey solutions that are readily available for free.”
TECHNOLOchicas: Building Latina Awareness of Tech Opportunities
One program Adriane and NCWIT are particularly proud of is TECHNOLOchicas, an initiative co-produced with the Televisa Foundation launched just over a year ago.
With Latinas occupying only 2% of jobs in the technology workforce, the program features successful Latinas sharing their tech stories to raise awareness of the opportunities and careers in computing. Girls can then find relatable role models who work at the likes of Google, NASA, Microsoft, Pinterest, Qualcomm, and higher education.
NCWIT recently co-hosted an event at Google to introduce the second generation of the family-oriented campaign, with actress Eva Longoria moderating several panels.
“Ultimately, the campaign goal is to inspire young Latinas to pursue technology, but it’s nice to profile active technical women that some people may not realize are out there,” Adriane said. “Not all people in technology look like Mark Zuckerberg.”
How the Diverse NCWIT Team Meets Challenges and Inspires Change
After about 10 years of working at NCWIT, Adriane said society is finally recognizing that women and other minority groups are underrepresented in technology.
“Having that open dialogue is very necessary in order for change to begin to take place at a scale to make a more productive impact nationwide,” she said. “Any one testimonial or success story from a member, or hearing from one high school woman who decides to pursue a computing degree fuels our fire. Change is happening.”
Headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, NCWIT has employees scattered across the country. Practicing what the organization preaches, employees and contractors span a range of ages, races, and technical abilities.
“One way or another, our mission just resonates with them,” Adriane said. “Everyone on staff is passionate and actively in touch with our members to hear firsthand what they need. But, our members truly do the heavy lifting. We’re all in this on behalf of our society at large.”