Cisco and NCWIT Partner to Promote Women in IT

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The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) and Cisco Systems will team up to raise young women’s awareness of their career opportunities in IT, officials from both organizations announced recently. The former institution, which was established just last fall, has the official mission of “achieving gender parity in information technology within the next 20 years,” said Lucy Sanders, NCWIT’s CEO and co-founder.


“This mission is important to us because we believe that women can and must play a role in inventing the technology of the future,” Sanders said. “Increasingly, they’re opting out of that role, and we think that’s something we need to turn around.”


Cisco joins a group of prestigious NCWIT partners that includes high-profile tech firms like Microsoft and Intel, as well as non-tech giants like Wal-Mart and Bank of America. NCWIT also maintains an academic alliance comprised of more that 40 higher learning institutions, including Harvard, MIT, the University of California, the University of Colorado and Wellesley. “What we have is a strategy that should work nationally to help us turn the corner,” Sanders said. “We believe we have a strategy that will scale for higher education and corporate America. It’s a very business-focused and systemic approach.”


Sanders identified a couple of explanations at the root of the problem of low numbers of women in the information technology industry, one of which was elementary- and secondary-level education. “In many places, it’s not taught the way it should be, which is as a very creative, fun endeavor that’s socially relevant,” she said, and added that concepts such as algorithmic and analytical thinking needed to be incorporated into technical curricula. “We’ve got problems along the entire pipeline. If you look at our K-12 educational systems, we are just not introducing students to the science of computing and information technology the way we should. Too often, most kids—both boys and girls—leave the K-12 system with nary a clue about what careers in information technology really are. If they’re exposed to them at all, they’re exposed to them as literary—by that I mean how to turn on a PC or how to use software.”


Another issue is the impression young people—irrespective of gender or ethnicity—have of the IT field, she said. “It’s viewed as a solitary, geeky, sit-in-my-cube-all-day kind of job. I know that’s not true, after 24 years as a professional in this space, and most others do too. There’s this image problem, and that’s why this campaign with Cisco is so important.”


Sanders acknowledged that in at least one respect, gender parity was not a problem. In terms of income, women in IT make as much—if not more—than their male counterparts. Yet salary has never been a hot-button issue for NCWIT. “In this particular case, we’re after representation, not for its own sake—although equity and fairness is a good thing—but because we believe we’re brunting one of the differentiators of the U.S. workforce: diversity. Different life approaches inform the creativity process. If we can take that diversity and bring it to bear in the technology we invent, it’s going to really help us in this global economy. And no matter what your career is, you increasingly need to understand information technology.”


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