Today in History – May 18, 2004 – Founding of the National Center for Women in Information Technology (NCWIT).
Alas women now only represent a small fraction of computer science graduates and are not fully represented in the world of information technology and computing. This is one reason I enthusiastically agreed to co-found and serve as founding CEO of the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) with the overarching goal to achieve parity in the professional information technology (IT) workforce and to educate, disseminate, and advocate a national, multi-year implementation plan that generates tangible progress within 20 years.
Why is this issue important? Innovation thrives with a diversity of ideas and input. As IT becomes pervasive in our lives, we need women’s full participation in the the creation of the technology upon which our society increasingly depends. Further, U.S. Department of Labor projections forecast that our economy will add 1 million professional IT jobs by 2014. In the aftermath of the dot-com bust, however, the perception of a job shortage has caused a sharp decline in enrollment at 4 year computer science programs. Women’s lack of participation results in ideas not realized, products not implemented and jobs going unfilled.
It was in May 2004 that NCWIT held our first meetings in Boulder, Colorado, and announced our formation and funding from the National Science Foundation. What started as a collective passion to ensure that women are fully represented in computing and IT has become a movement involving the work of over 170 organizations, spanning K-12 to faculty and non-profits to corporations, working in areas spanning from outreach to entrepreneurship to institutional reform. At our May 2009 annual meeting we celebrated our fifth birthday (see me introducing the keynote speaker at the start of conference below, Jessica Jackley, Cofounder of Kiva). Jessica’s story is a fantastic inspiration for us all!!
NCWIT is now a coalition of over 100 universities, corporations and non-profits who all feel we can and must do a better job of attracting women to computing. We have developed interventions across the entire educational and career pipeline, including new ideas in curriculum, outreach, recruiting and retention. We are also studying women’s participation in key innovation metrics such as IT patenting, open source and entrepreneurship.
The history of computing owes much to contributions of talented women. Ada Byron Lovelace is credited first envisioning programming with her statement: “The analytical engine weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves”. Six of the ENIAC programmers were women at the University of Pennsylvania during World War II who had been calculating ballistics trajectories by hand. Admiral Grace Hopper, inventor of the first computer compiler, coined the term “computer bug” and is the namesake for the Grace Hopper Conference – Celebration of Women in Computing.
See the Engineering Pathway’s educational resources on the ENIAC, history of computing, Ada Lovelace and women in information technology. For curricular resources, visit the Computer Science Education, Information Science Education, Information Technology Education, Computer Engineering Education and Software Engineering Education community pages at Engineering Pathway.