My Experience at the 2014 NCWIT Summit on Women and IT
I could summarize the 2014 NCWIT Summit in three phrases, "please let us in, let’s all join hands, and leave the door open." These three phrases exemplify the stories of Award for Aspirations in Computing recipients, the founding of the National Center for Women & Information Technology itself, and women in technology everywhere.
Dr. Maggie Neale opened the NCWIT summit with an engaging talk on the art of negotiation as a catalyst for change. The professor highlighted a few tactics, and gave advice about how to think about negotiation – as a process instead of a battle, a deal rather than a victory. Ten years ago, negotiation is exactly what the co-founders of NCWIT had to use to start an organization that would change the culture of technology and the lives of thousands of girls.
Just like NCWIT’s founders, many Award for Aspirations in Computing recipients can relate to the negotiation required for change. Many of these girls had to push past male classmates in programming competitions, shake away comments of doubt and condescension, and fight – or rather, negotiate – for women in computing clubs and organizations in their schools. One recipient, Priscilla R, recalled how her father discouraged her from computing – encouraging her brother instead – because she was a girl. Yet this summer, she will intern at Disney as a web developer.
At breakfast in the Marriot’s Rose Garden, I talked with Pioneer Award winner Eleanor Kolchin about the differences in technology she’s seen over the years. She commented on the ease of web creation programs like Webs.com (“Back in the day, I used straight-up HTML.”), and recalled solving differential equations with a slide rule (“Anybody with a smartphone would not believe the antiquity of the machines in the year 1947!”). More importantly, she remarked that although there is still a significant gender gap in technological fields, “being a woman mathematician is no longer a big deal.”
In the second plenary session, Dr. Michael Kimmel explained the importance of including men in the conversation. The goal of NCWIT isn’t for women to replace men in technological fields, but to join them. NCWIT’s inclusion of people from all sectors symbolizes that while it may take a village to raise a child, it takes the world to empower a girl.
At the closing Plenary, Chelsea Clinton and Donna Brazile emphasized that the journey isn’t over. Although progress has been made, barriers still exist in both first-world and developing nations. Just because we – Award for Aspirations in Computing recipients, CEOs of startups, computer science professors – have made it, doesn’t mean that we can close the door. Donna Brazile explained the importance of advocating despite resistance, entering a room, perhaps uninvited, “even if you have to bring a fold-up chair.”
In ten years, the National Center for Women & Information Technology has come a long way. However, from conference rooms in Silicon Valley to classrooms in high schools across the globe, there is a long way to go. I, and some other Aspirations Ambassadors, spent time speaking with the Southern California winners and runners-up. I talked about operating systems and programming languages, about college applications and AP classes, and about NCWIT and all of the opportunities the organization has has offered me. I think it helped them realize that NCWIT is more than just an award, it’s a community, whose door is always open.