Girls Just Wanna Be Computer Scientists [video]

The world has a big problem.

Developing technology is the primary way we’re advancing toward the future, and yet in 2010, only 18.2% of American undergraduates studying computer science were women. To work in technology is to innovate, and innovation benefits from a diversity of minds, which often comes from a group of people who don’t look alike.

So where are the women? Maria Klawe has an answer.

The president of Harvey Mudd College, Dr. Klawe has helped transform the way computer science is reaching students. She was recently profiled in a New York Times story that examined how Harvey Mudd’s intro computer science class has been made-over to appeal to more learners:

Known as CS 5, the course focused on hard-core programming, appealing to a particular kind of student — young men, already seasoned programmers, who dominated the class. This only reinforced the women’s sense that computer science was for geeky know-it-alls.

“Most of the female students were unwilling to go on in computer science because of the stereotypes they had grown up with,” said Zachary Dodds, a computer scientist at Mudd. “We realized we were helping perpetuate that by teaching such a standard course.”

To reduce the intimidation factor, the course was divided into two sections — “gold,” for those with no prior experience, and “black” for everyone else. Java, a notoriously opaque programming language, was replaced by a more accessible language called Python. And the focus of the course changed [from] computational approaches to solving problems across science.

“We realized that we needed to show students computer science is not all about programming,” said Ran Libeskind-Hadas, chairman of the department. “It has intellectual depth and connections to other disciplines.”

See how inclusion is done? To embrace those who’ve traditionally been left out, it takes self-reflection, broad thinking, and action. 

Harvey Mudd isn’t the only college to revamp its curriculum:

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Yes, Gender Impacts Journalism

Jill Abramson, executive editor of the New York Times, recently said “The idea that women journalists bring a different taste in stories or sensibility isn’t true.”


These are surprising remarks from the first woman to be placed at the top of the Times masthead. Still, we sympathize with her fantasy that gender doesn’t matter in journalism, and Ken Auletta’s story last year in the New Yorker offers a hint why Abramson would maintain this narrow-minded view. He reports:

When Eileen Shanahan, who went on to become a well-respected economics reporter, arrived for an interview with Clifton Daniel, the assistant managing editor, in 1962, she hid her desire to become an editor. “All I ever want is to be a reporter on the best newspaper in the world,” she told him.

“That’s good,” Daniel responded, as Shanahan told the story, “because I can assure you no woman will ever be an editor at the New York Times.”

You see, @JillAbramson is in a tough spot. She aligns her worldview with that of past senior editors, perhaps to show that as the Times‘ most powerful woman executive ever, she won’t subvert the patriarchy. If she were more frank about the gravity of being the Gray Lady’s first female executive editor, she’d likely pay a tall price. She’d:

  • be attacked by her colleagues
  • need to defend herself
  • feel seduced away from her formal task of leading the newsroom, and ultimately
  • waste her energy and be de-authorized in her role.

An experience none of her predecessors faced on account of their gender.

And in being so politic, she misses the truth. What truth?

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7 Secrets to Center Your Self at Work [video]

It’s one of the most underrated ways of doing work.

In the course of a day, we tend to chase appreciation and approval of our work, and avoid confrontation and criticism. Problem is, it’s almost impossible to feel secure and grounded when these things come from outside of our selves.

We need ways to feel more centered in the workplace. Webster’s dictionary defines being “centered” as being “emotionally stable and secure.”

What does that mean?

Alicia Graf Mack has an answer. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Company dancer was recently interviewed by William C. Rhoden about the dancer as athlete (video below), and along with Gia Kourlas’s interview in TimeOut New York, we see an outline of Mack’s insight about how to be more emotionally stable and secure on the job.

Here are the dancer’s 7 secrets to center your self at work:

1. You can tolerate pain. Writes Kourlas:

[Mack] suffers from an autoimmune disorder classified as reactive arthritis, which led to swelling and pain in her joints … [She] began teaching dance… What happens when you start teaching? You start dancing again.

Alicia Graf Mack loves to dance so much, she willfully works through her physical pain to do so. Really, for what kind of work would you accept physical pain?

2. You can’t tolerate pain. Read more

What Sheryl Sandberg Didn’t Say at Davos [video]

Facebook Inc.’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg recently spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and related important ideas about women in the workplace. She said we need to be mindful of how we’re socializing boys and girls at home, and called on chief executives to implement equal maternity and paternity leave policies.

Great stuff, right? And yet we’re totally disappointed in her.

Facebook recently filed for an initial public offering (IPO) that’s expected to raise up to $10bn this spring, and which could compensate Sandberg $1.6bn, solidifying her place among the most powerful executives in America.

Because of her newfound perch at the top, when she speaks about her professional trajectory and gender equality, it’s time she acknowledges the full range of dynamics that have helped her get there.

What dynamics?

That her Whiteness has played a role in her success.

Ay, that was hard to write. And we don’t mean to target the newest billionaire simply because she’s a woman. We’re critical of representations of White male leadership, too.

Sandberg’s story goes like this:  Read more

Admit This, and Soar to New Heights

Are you a finished product? We hope not, because if you were, by definition you’d be “finished.”  If you’re living, then you’re growing and learning, or evolving.

And this is a boon to your professional development.

As the principal says in the song “Dudley Pippin and the Principal” from Marlo Thomas’s Free to Be… You and Me,

Most people spend their entire lives trying to get un-mixed up!

Every one of us is a work in progress, including First Lady of the United States of America Michelle Obama.

Featured recently in a New York Times article titled “Michelle Obama and the Evolution of a First Lady,” the Harvard Law School graduate and former Sidley Austin associate is portrayed as one who’s learning and growing on the job. Author Jodi Kantor writes:

Michelle Obama’s trajectory in the White House was changing. She was mastering and subtly redefining the role that had once seemed formless to her, and becoming more acclimated to her new life.

You thought she arrived fully formed in her role as First Lady? To the contrary, like all of us, Obama is allowed to give herself space to acclimate to her professional role, and develop from there. Determining how to take up our role and task is part of what makes work engaging.

The wife of the President is aiming for new heights this year. If she can meet success by taking time to define her own work-life trajectory, so can you.  Or rather, so should you.  Admit that you’re in the grips of an evolution yourself, then see how high you soar.

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Sisters Doing It for Themselves (Brothers Are, Too) [video]

The foundation of our civilization is shifting. Feel it?  NEW New York City, or Non-traditional Employment for Women in NYC, is paving the way (couldn’t help it) towards ground-breaking (stop us!) change in the limits we all place around professional development.  Check out the organization’s mission:

Founded in 1978, NEW is a sector-based workforce development program that prepares women for careers in the construction, transportation, energy, and facilities maintenance industries. NEW focuses on skilled, unionized jobs in the trades with starting wages averaging $15 per hour, benefits, and a path to higher-wage employment.

Totally hot! Not only is the promise of career advancement exciting, this is an organization that clearly encourages every member to bring her whole self to work. In the construction field, we’re talking about revealing and engaging the full extent of your strength, stamina and dexterity, plus so much more.

Now women aren’t the only ones pursuing less traditional occupations. There’s an increasing number of men taking up the role of C.E.O. support system, also known as “husband of the C.E.O.”  From the New York Times story on the men who support women C.E.O.s:

Asked at a Barnard College conference what men could do to help advance women’s leadership, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School and author of the landmark “Men and Women of the Corporation,” answered, “The laundry.”

When women and men eagerly take on non-traditional pursuits, we all benefit. These pioneers demonstrate the hard-won fulfillment and freedom that can come with eschewing the trappings of gender.

Watch the stories of some of New York City’s strongest:

This video almost brings tears to our eyes. It’s a shining example of bringing your whole self to work, for sure.

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Gender and the New C.E.O.

One of the more poignant stories we know about organizational dynamics goes like this:

A Black man in his mid-30s was hired as a business development executive in a large consulting firm.  On his first day of work, his boss, a White man in his early 50s, said to him, “I’m glad you joined our team. Although I don’t want you to think that you were hired because of your race.”

To which he replied, “Why not?  You were.”

Whether we’re comfortable admitting it or not, we all notice physical characteristics of the people around us, including:

  • skin tone
  • height
  • body shape
  • hair texture and color
  • nose width
  • fullness of lips, and
  • size, shape and color of eyes.

From this data, we make inferences about individuals’ gender, race and ethnicity. And from these assumptions we often form conclusions about one’s competence, work ethic, and likeability, for example. Indeed bringing your whole self to work involves having conscious awareness of how your  gender, race, and ethnicity — plus other salient parts of your identity — impact your work.

So when Virginia Rometty was recently named the new chief executive of IBM (NYSE: IBM), it was surprising to read the perspective of Samuel Palmisano, the current chief executive. In a story from the New York Times:

Gender, according to Mr. Palmisano, did not figure into Ms. Rometty’s selection.

“Ginni got it because she deserved it,” Mr. Palmisano said, using the informal first name by which she is known to friends and colleagues. “It’s got zero to do with progressive social policies,” Mr. Palmisano added.

Just like the protagonist suggests in the story above, why wouldn’t gender be among the multiple multi-faceted factors that play into the selection of a chief executive?

Palmisano seems to be saying that Rometty’s promotion is not an affirmative action-related decision, which will ultimately help authorize her in her new leadership role.

We empathize with his need to be politic. Still, it would deepen workplace conversations if everybody acknowledged the role that gender often plays in hiring decisions. Not to mention provide significant relief in knowing the truth.

Up next: How gender impacts the world of journalism.

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